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Most local schools closed Friday due to Camp Fire smoke

in Education/Featured/Headline by

Like many Bay Area school districts, the Redwood City School District, the Sequoia Union High School District and Cañada College have decided to close their schools on Friday due to the unhealthy air quality levels caused by the devastating Camp Fire in Northern California.

“The Air Quality Index reached the Very Unhealthy level earlier this afternoon and the forecast is expected to be the same for tomorrow,” according to the Redwood City School District. “For that reason, RCSD has decided to close our schools for tomorrow, Friday, November 16.”

Given the current and ongoing air conditions, “we feel this is the best decision for the health and safety of our school community,” according to the superintendent of the Sequioa Union High School District.

Cañada College, College of San Mateo and Skyline College will be closed through Saturday, with classes and campus operations resuming on Monday. Many other neighboring school districts have made the same decision.

Also closed are the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District, San Mateo-Foster City School District, Ravenswood City School District and many others. However, the San Carlos School District has decided to remain open.

“Please follow recommendations from the EPA to stay indoors, keep your children indoors, and keep your windows closed,” the Redwood City School District stated. “Also, it is recommended that you refrain from any strenuous or vigorous activities until the air quality improves.”

Plans take shape for closing Redwood City School District’s budget shortfall

in Education/Featured/Headline by
School-by-school breakdown of reorganization proposals

Most of the Redwood City School District superintendent’s recommendations for addressing a budget crisis seems on track for approval following an emotional board meeting Wednesday that extended past midnight.

But bowing to impassioned complaints that Latino families west of El Camino Real were bearing the brunt of the school closures and other cuts, board members asked Supt. John Baker to find a way to consolidate Fair Oaks with Taft School rather than closing them both as originally proposed. It wasn’t clear which might be the location. The latter school on 10th Avenue is slated for two years of construction but it appears that it possibly could remain open and accept additional students.

The board is scheduled to vote on the package at a Nov. 28 meeting. Among Baker’s proposals that appear headed for approval are the closure of Hawes School, and the move of Orion students to John Gill and Adelante students to Selby Lane. Board members said they’d like one proposal – the closure of the district office so it can be rented out – to happen as soon as possible. They indicated, however, that neither that space nor other schools would be sold.

School closings would save $3.6 million of the $4 million in cuts that the district must make next year to begin dealing with a $10 million budget shortfall. The shortfall was caused by declining enrollment and a disadvantageous state funding formula that is tied to head count. In addition to the school closings, layoffs will be required, mostly as a result of having fewer schools to operate. For complete details on Baker’s recommendations, go to

Held at the Fox Theatre to accommodate anticipated crowds, the meeting was the first opportunity for board members to comment on Baker’s proposal since it was posted on the district website Nov. 9. However, public comment ran on until 11 p.m., and by the time board members had their say, the majority of the audience had gone home.

The message that came through loudly and clearly was that parents who work two or more jobs and are least able to drive across town would bear an unfair burden. What for many district parents would be an inconvenience, they said, would be a hardship for low-income families.

“I am upset by the fact that only the schools on the east side of our community are affected,” said parent and teacher Gloria Comfort. “It doesn’t seem equitable to have one population that takes the hit.”

Parents, children, teachers and staff began lining up outside the theater more than an hour before the meeting’s 7 p.m. start time. Carrying signs in support of Hawes and other schools they wanted to keep open, the crowd filled most of the orchestra-level seating and punctuated speaker comments with applause and shouts.

One Hawes parent demanded to know how many times board members had walked their children to school pushing a stroller and said most parents in the neighborhood don’t have two or more cars and have to walk. She said families are being recruited to switch to charter schools which offer free transportation.

During the board discussion later in the evening, Baker indicated that transportation “is being looked at” for students who are displaced after a school closes. Trustee Hilary Paulson also said some of the Hawes families may live closer to John Gill than Roosevelt, where they are proposed to move, and that should be examined in the redrawing of attendance areas.

Several in the audience blamed the school board and the administration for the problems.

“The problem, the mistakes, are not ours, they’re yours,” said one father.

Trustee Janet Lawson defended the quality of Redwood City schools and said “what is broken is the school funding at the state level.”

Trustee Dennis McBride lamented the need for the cuts.  In his entire career in business and on the school board, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever done. I know everybody up here feels terrible,” he said.  “The fundamental issue is that we have to save $4 million.”

McBride said he’d received some 1,000 emails about the budget crisis, and had been urged to lobby state legislators for a more advantageous funding formula, as well as to seek corporate and foundation support. The school board isn’t in the position to change the way the state allocates funding, he indicated, and those emails would be better directed to legislators in Sacramento who need to hear from parents firsthand.

The only way forward at this point is to close schools, he said. “There’s nobody up here who doesn’t get that that this is impacting people.”

Baker, who began his career with the district as a kindergarten teacher, told the audience that he never anticipated dealing with such a situation. “This has been the hardest job this year that I’ve ever had to undertake,” he said.

Trustee Alisa MacAvoy said, hard as they may be, changes are unavoidable.

“We’ve kicked the can down the road the last few years,” she said. “We’re running too many small schools.”

That said, she added, “my experience with students is that they transition a lot better than adults do.”

Kathleen Harris, who is executive director of the Redwood City Education Foundation, put in an appeal for “our community to unite with the foundation to raise money for our schools.”

Political Climate with Mark Simon: As Peninsula evolves, so must our attitudes toward change

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
Heads up! Broadway St. utility project to impact traffic for two weeks

In the early 1600s, William Shakespeare and a business partner sought to buy an abandoned monastery in central London and convert it into the first fully indoor theater in England.

The plan eventually fell through. Neighborhood residents rose up in protest that an active theater in their community would result in too much traffic.

Yep, those oxcart backups could be a real nuisance. Not in Ye Backyard.

In other words, there is nothing new under the sun.

As of this writing, we still don’t know the outcome of a handful of issues that were on the November 6 ballot.

What we do know from one of the most active campaign seasons in recent memory is that there are certain issues, concerns and worries that permeate our political environment. They were on display in every local race.

If this were part of the Sophoclean trilogy, right about here is where the Chorus would take the stage and recite in mournful unison: The high cost of housing, the spurt of growth and development over the last decade and the unceasingly frustrating traffic, oxcart or otherwise.

But there is something larger underlying these issues and it is the same central theme that has predominated every city from Daly City to Mountain View: Change.

It is frequently described as a curse to wish upon someone that they live in interesting times, or a time of change.

You can waste a lot of time searching for the root of that sentiment but the truth of it is universal and unmistakable – change is difficult and unsettling. It often is resisted and the resistance often comes too late.

That’s the case in our part of the world now. Anyone who fondly remembers the way things used to be probably is pretty uneasy at how things are now.

You hear it in complaints about how long it takes to get across town. Or how hard it is to find parking. Or that our adult children can no longer afford to live in their hometowns. Or the concern about the changing skyline of our once-quiet little towns.

Those are the localized complaints, of course, and they carry with them a sense that, somehow, we are victims of an unprecedented and sustained economic explosion that has wrought regional changes on our highways and in our employment centers.

That we have lost something essential about what our towns were and who we are.

In virtually every community, the dominant discussion is that we don’t like the changes that have taken place.

But here’s the reality that our political campaigns have not addressed: These changes are here to stay. Our best response – the healthiest and the one that, time and again, has proven most successful – is to embrace it.

THE WAY IT WAS: Two generations ago, the Peninsula was a hotbed of social rest – a quiet, low-key series of virtually indistinguishable suburban communities that most often elected Republicans to state and federal office.

The economy revolved around San Francisco and the peak commute hours saw the vast majority of workers driving to the city in the morning and driving back down the Peninsula in the evening.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a political transformation, first to moderate Republicans and, then, in the late 1980s, to the dominance of Democrats that prevails now.

Still, business and social life continued to revolve around San Francisco and there were few large employers and no major employment centers on the Peninsula, except, perhaps San Francisco International Airport, and that was San Francisco’s, too.

Every city had its own downtown and it was there that many of us of a certain age did our back-to-school shopping. Virtually every downtown had a drug store and a soda fountain and a hardware store and a toy store and a local market and a movie theater.

Then came the regional shopping centers, and the downtowns struggled – some withered – and, much like today, something was lost.

Many of the changes were welcomed enthusiastically.

It was around 1973 that the term Silicon Valley was coined and we attached ourselves to it with pride. It carried a cachet – the place where the future is invented – and it was dynamic and exciting and it meant more jobs and employers with national and international profiles and it seemed to fit the highly educated, cosmopolitan nature of the people who lived here.

Yet, even with the explosion of Silicon Valley, the geography most of us think of as the Peninsula – Daly City to Palo Alto – appeared to remain the same, when, in reality, it was changing slowly.

Then, one day, we looked around, and everything was different. And so it continues.

THE WAY IT IS: This is America. Change is part of our soul.

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” the character Terence Mann captured it succinctly: “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again.”

The point he was making, of course, is that this constant of change makes us long for those things that give us emotional solace, for those things that “mark the time.”

So, we hear in every town people longing for a community that is gone, but, in reality, probably wasn’t quite what we remember it to be.

Nostalgia is fine and it’s why we send our holiday cards with snow and one-horse sleighs and snowmen and why we go to concerts by people we loved when we were young.

But there’s no going back. There is only going forward.

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: As Silicon Valley spread, the Peninsula was an incubator for new industries and new innovations. But companies would reach a certain size and then move major facilities – typically manufacturing – somewhere else and leave a token presence, if any, here.

Now, companies manufacture ideas more than gadgets and the result is growth the likes of which we have never seen.

For the first time in my memory, an entire industry – biotech – has planted itself in San Mateo County and the massive demand for additional office space will be unrelenting.

For the first time in my memory, major employers, most notably, Facebook, Google and Apple, plan to grow in place. They are building huge campuses because they want their employees near each other, working collaboratively, generating a thousand new ideas a week in the hope that one of them will be transformative.

The economic forces at work are not going to leave. There may be downturns – some say it is an inevitable certainty. But entire industries are not going to be wiped out and this new generation of companies is planning for growth.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? As I said at the outset, the only way to manage change is to embrace it.

And to stop fighting it. Sometimes it seems as though the local debates are dominated by people inclined to stand at the ocean’s edge and order the tide to stop.

In many cities, we have new council members and, in some cases, new majorities on the councils.

They are the product of some of the most contentious campaigns in more than a decade.

But the campaign is over and it’s time for us to find ways to work together.

We need to listen to one another. We need to see issues in something other than black and white. We need to grant to others that which we want ourselves – the benefit of the doubt and the assumption that each of us has the best interests of our community at heart.

We need to stop vilifying one another. We need to seek common ground. Individually, none of us occupies the moral high ground but collectively, all of us can.

During the just-completed campaign, more than one friend or acquaintance complained about the toxic nature of our public discourse. They expect our elected officials to find common ground and to put aside individual prejudices for a consensus that embraces the common good.

Our community leads in innovation, in new ideas and in love for the natural wonders that make this a special place. We are the nation’s model in these ways.

Let’s be the nation’s model in our public debate, in how we move forward to manage the change that undoubtedly will be the one true constant in the lives of our community.

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.

Redwood City Fire community alert remains in effect as air quality worsens

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The Redwood City Fire Department community alert remains in effect as local pollution stemming from the Camp Fire in Butte County reached its worst levels tonight.

As of this writing, the latest hourly air quality update for the Redwood City area showed PM2.5 levels of 190, the worst pollution since the Camp Fire began last Thursday. Such levels fall near the top of the range of the “unhealthy” category for pollution (151-200), per the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Click here to view hourly updates.

The devastating Camp Fire has claimed at least 59 lives and destroyed 10,321 structures. As of earlier today, the fire had burned 138,000 acres and was 35-percent contained.

Redwood City officials are asking local communities to stay indoors, limit outdoor activity and seek medical attention if you are having difficulty breathing. For more, go to and click on Poor Air Quality for more.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Why it takes so long to count election ballots

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
San Mateo County: Vote today to avoid lines, and it's not too late to register

We’ve become people who stand in front of a microwave oven, muttering, “Hurry up.”

Not an ideal mindset for an electoral process that requires patience.

Patience. What a concept. It comes in handy when you’re waiting in traffic or standing in line at Disneyland or, say, counting ballots.

Such as counting ballots in San Mateo County’s November 6 election, which is taking much longer than some people seem to think it should.

In a world of instant gratification, elections often are neither instant nor gratifying, although often not for the same reasons.

And for the sake of the permanent record, I want to state unequivocally that they should take their time and make sure to count all the ballots, even if it means waiting for the final outcome.

Yes, we’re used to election results on election night, but it’s not like that. Not this time. Not anymore.

COUNTING THE REASONS: There are a number of reasons why the count for this election is taking a while, most of them valid, some of them worthy of further question.

First, a lot of people voted in this election. As of 10 p.m. last Friday, the absolute deadline, a total of 271,704 ballots had been received by the county Elections office.

That’s a voter turnout of nearly 68 percent, higher than the 65 percent projection from Elections officials. That’s more than 20 points higher than the turnout in 2014, the last gubernatorial election. That’s higher than the 65.3 percent turnout in 2010, when 226,000 voters cast ballots.

That’s also more than 20 points higher than the statewide turnout. When all the votes are counted, San Mateo County will be among the highest-turnout counties in the state, and among the top five highest in urban counties.

As of yesterday’s 4:30 p.m. update, Elections staff already had counted 144,000, nearly as many as the total number of votes cast in 2014 – and they still have another 127,000 ballots to count.

In other words, there was a huge turnout. The more ballots, the longer it takes to count them.

We are used to knowing the results right away. And why not? The run-up to the election took months of ads and mail pieces and all kinds of conversations. Why should we have to wait to know what happened?

And the answer is that this isn’t sports – we don’t always know the outcome the instant the clock runs out. To quote Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

And there’s another reason – it’s not just a huge turnout, but many of the local races are close.

Back in the days of all-machine voting, under the most normal of circumstances, some of these races were so close that we didn’t know the outcome until the end of November.

And these are hardly the most normal of circumstances.

AND BY THE WAY, WE DON’T DO THAT ANYMORE: The county has been shifting steadily away from voting by machine to voting by mail, or what used to be called absentee voting.

Then, we switched to this election’s all-mail balloting experiment.

Far from a great leap forward technologically, in reality, we went to a technology that more closely resembles voting in the 19th century, when voters made a mark on a paper ballot and stuffed it in a box.

In other words, we went from voting by machine to voting by hand.

When we voted at our local fire station, we slid our ballot into the machine and it was counted – right there, on the spot. We signed a book and no one checked the signature to make sure we were us. At the end of the evening, someone hit a button and the totals were instantly available.

Now, we vote by hand in our homes, sign and seal the envelope and deliver it, by mail or in person, to the Elections officials and we can mail it on Election Day.

Then, the mail has to be delivered, and someone has to open the envelope, cross-check the signature, and then manually slip the ballot into a machine that counts it.

It’s not quite that laborious – a lot of it is done by machines and scanners. But someone has to do the work we all used to do ourselves when we went to our precinct voting place.

It takes time to do it right.

THE BIG TRADE-OFF: The trade-off is more and better voting.

The evidence is plain, a huge number of voters turned out this year in the June and November elections. By any measure, that’s more voting and the assumption in elections is that more is better. Period.

Better voting comes in the form of a better-informed electorate.

Even with the shortened window of time during which the ballots were available in this election, voters had time to go over the ballot, research the often-confusing measures, find out a little more about the candidates and make deliberate, unhurried decisions.

If the cost is that it takes longer to tally all the ballots, it’s a trade-off worth making.

WE CAN DO BETTER: Still, there are some lingering questions about whether the San Mateo County Elections Department was prepared for the onslaught of ballots.

Interestingly, on the Peninsula TV election night show, Chief Elections Deputy Jim Irizarry brought some slides for his interview and one of them shows staffing levels in the Elections offices of the nine Bay Area counties.

San Mateo County is eighth, ahead only of Solano County.

There has been a lot of turnover in the Elections Department. Let’s be generous and assume it has been due to retirements.

I know from talking to people who have worked in the department that it takes two or three election cycles before a newcomer really has a handle on how it all works.

I don’t know if Elections Chief Mark Church failed to make a pitch to the Board of Supervisors, which includes his predecessor, Warren Slocum, for more funding for the Elections Department.

I don’t know if the Board failed to fund the department sufficiently, either at Church’s request or on its own initiative.

And I don’t care.

Moving forward, the department can do better and it needs to have adequate funds to hire the right number of people and to bring on board people with a level of experience that our elections system demands.

Contact Mark Simon at

Photo courtesy of San Mateo County Elections Division

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

Redwood City Starbucks manager forced from store in DV incident

in Crime/Featured/Headline by

More details have been released about the Nov. 1 kidnapping arrest at a business on El Camino Real initially reported by the Redwood City Police Department.

San Mateo County prosecutors say Santos Estrada Jr., 36, of Redwood City, went to the Starbucks at 1900 El Camino Real about 9:15 a.m., grabbed his estranged wife, who is the store’s manager, from behind and forcibly pulled her out of the store.

Outside, Estrada grabbed her cellphone to keep her from calling police, then threatened to kill her in a stream of curses despite her pleading with him to stop, prosecutors said.

“He dragged her 50 feet to his car which was running and threw her in the passenger seat,” prosecutors said.

As Estrada circled the car to get into the driver’s seat, the victim grabbed the key from the ignition, then ran back into the store. Co-workers who witnessed the incident called 911, but Estrada had fled on foot before police arrived. About two hours later, he was arrested at his Redwood City home, where he “was seeking help from his family to be transported out of the Bay Area,” prosecutors said.

At the time, Estrada was on probation for domestic violence. He and the victim have been married 13 years with two children but were separated. She had filed for divorce, and also had a restraining order against him, prosecutors said.

Estrada remains in custody on $500,000 bail. He was set to appear in court today to enter a plea and set a preliminary hearing date.

Latest elections results, San Mateo County

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Giselle Hale, Diane Howard and Rick Hunter remained the top vote-getters for the three open seats on Redwood City Council following the latest release of election results on Tuesday, with all three widening their leads in the race since results were last unveiled on Friday.

But one full week after Election Day, many more votes remain to be counted in this all-mail voting pilot in San Mateo County.

As of today’s release of results, a total of 144,100 votes had been counted out of 271,704 that were cast in San Mateo County, according to figures posted by county Elections officials reporting on the total number of ballots received as of the Friday deadline. That means roughly 47 percent of the votes cast countywide have yet to be tallied.

The significant number of yet-uncounted ballots has left several races still undecided.

That includes the race for three seats on the Redwood City Council, where Hale, Howard and Hunter find themselves in a stronger position in the latest count. Hale is the top vote-getter at 5,937 votes, 165 votes ahead of Howard, who is 486 votes ahead of Hunter. But the number of votes separating Hunter and the fourth-place candidate, Diana Reddy, is only 134 votes.

On social media, the Hunter campaign took note of how close the election is and advised supporters to stay tuned for the next release of results, scheduled for the end of the week.

Fifth place finisher Christina Umhofer, 705 votes out of third place, also offered similar advice to her supporters on social media.

Sixth- and seventh-place finishers, Jason Galisatus and Ernie Schmidt, respectively, issued statements last week acknowledging that they were going to fall short of winning one of the three seats.

What hasn’t gained much ground in the latest results is Measure W, the half-cent sales tax increase to fund transit and transportation projects. The measure inched up slightly from 65.6 precent to 65.83 percent since the last release of voting tallies. The measure requires two-thirds approval to pass.

The release date for the next round of results will take place Friday, Nov. 16. To view the county’s Nov. 6 election results, click here.

San Mateo County History Museum writes new page in Redwood City history

in A&E/Featured/Headline/Uncategorized by
San Mateo County Historical Association requests community stories related to COVID-19 pandemic

By Janet McGovern and Brian Douglas

The history of San Mateo County government in Redwood City has been a bit of a love/hate relationship. The jails, the bail bondsmen, the halfway houses, people complained, arrived courtesy of county government. Sure enough, so did scores of county workers to eat in Redwood City restaurants and shop at stores. On the other hand, when they went home at night, the sidewalks rolled up. But that’s history, really.

Anyone who’s arrived during the last 10 years would have to consult history to learn about “Deadwood City” and the time before the seat of county government emerged as the Peninsula’s entertainment and culture butterfly. And irony of ironies, the Cinderella transformation owes very much to a partnership among county government, the city and its redevelopment agency to repurpose the landmark San Mateo County Courthouse for a history museum fronting on a central plaza.

“I like to think of us as being at Ground Zero for that,” said Mitch Postel, the president of the San Mateo County Historical Association, which runs the museum that occupies the former courthouse. “When we moved in in 1998, it was pretty lazy around here.” He took a walk on a recent Thursday night and was stunned by how crowded downtown was. “We really did play a part to help downtown Redwood City to be as vibrant as it is now…

“In 2019, we will have been open to the public exactly 20 years,” he continues. The history museum was “a very willing and able partner, never questioned the mission and were right there in the corner when the city needed us.”

Built in 1910, after the 1906 earthquake devastated the latest prior courthouse, the spectacular domed edifice faces the Fox Theatre on Broadway, architectural and cultural bookends in a still unfolding story of change, rooted in history.

What to compare the courthouse with? Not much survived after 1906, certainly not major public buildings. There are some splendid private residences, including the Filoli Estate in Woodside and Ralston Hall in Belmont. South San Francisco has a beautiful, though smaller city hall, and San Francisco’s is impressive too but on a much larger scale.

“I can’t think of anything other than the City Hall of San Francisco that can compare,” says Ken Rolandelli, who has long been active in historic preservation in Redwood City. “For a community such as ours to have something that looks like this does is quite a source of pride.” People come from all over to attend concerts on Courthouse Square, he adds, and “Redwood City is really a happening place because of it.”

What a difference a few decades make. Not that long ago, visitors to the old courthouse came to pay traffic tickets and property tax bills or to arm wrestle in Small Claims Court. Today, they’re drawn by concerts, art shows and festivals outdoors and indoors to the museum’s exhibits, research archives, lectures, school tours, Victorian teas, as well as a gift shop that offers discounts during certain events. Museum space is also rented for weddings, receptions, dinners and other private parties. (San Mateo County owns the courthouse, as well as two other offsite historic locations that the historical association operates, Sanchez Adobe in Pacifica and the Woodside Store.)

Almost 40,000 people visited the museum and archives last year, and the other sites and outreach pushes the total to nearly 60,000. Thousands of school kids from all over the tour the museum.

The Day of the Dead celebration held every year on the first Sunday in November brings out more people to the museum than any other event in the year. Now in its eighth year, the “Día de las Muertos” celebration has grown from 500 to more than 3,700 celebrants who toured the old courthouse last year, according to Carmen Blair, the museum’s deputy director. The event is cosponsored with Casa Círculo Cultural, and with the Redwood City Library and the Parks & Art Foundation.

This year’s celebration will be on Nov. 4 and will begin with a procession down Broadway to Courthouse Square, where food purveyors and vendor booths will be set up. Music and dancing add to the festivities as well as a chalk mural. Then from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., the courthouse will be open for children to do crafts in the rotunda while other visitors can see a display of altars in the ceremonial Courtroom A; the altars will remain on display for the following week.

Former Redwood City Mayor Barbara Pierce has just completed a term as chairwoman of the historical association board. The city, she notes, has a large population of families from Mexico and the event “really helps to bring a whole new set of people to the museum and to downtown who might not otherwise.” The high-quality celebration “really honors their tradition,” Pierce says, adding that last year, 2,000 people came through the museum in two hours.

Originally affiliated with what was then called San Mateo Junior College, the historical association got its start in 1935 and created a local history “museum room” in 1941. It moved around within the downtown San Mateo campus until a 6,000-square-foot space was created in 1959 in the new College of San Mateo campus overlooking the city.

By the late 1990s, meanwhile, use of the historic courthouse for trials was winding down. In 1939, a space called “the Fiscal Building” had been added to the front of the building for an expanded office workforce and the stately columns were torn down. An addition to the rear of the structure on Marshall Street was built in 1941. But with the post-World War II growth of county government, more office space was needed and the eight-story Hall of Justice was built in 1963, followed through the years by additional county buildings and a new campus on Tower Road in San Mateo.

In 1998, the museum moved to the old courthouse in Redwood City. That was the good news. The bad news was that the annex buildings were still occupied by county office workers, which meant that the entrance to the museum was not through the front door facing Broadway, but through a side door on Hamilton Street.

The needs of the museum and the renaissance of downtown converged to create what led to the restoration of the historic courthouse, a revitalized museum and a great public plaza. However, making those pieces come together took a lot of heavy lifting by dedicated people.

Rolandelli was part of a committee that was formed to restore the courthouse to its original splendor and create a public plaza that would replace a lawn and simple pathway. The task was daunting enough: relocate the county employees along with removing the three-story Fiscal Building without damaging the historic courthouse structure. Then faithfully reproduce the original columns, façade and wide stairway from photo archives and create a plaza that was contemporary yet would complement the classic courthouse architecture.

Fundraising for the restoration project had its own challenges, especially after the stock market bubble burst, but between funds from redevelopment, foundations and passing the hat, the finances worked. An unforeseen problem originated in Sacramento, where the head of the state architect’s office was an enthusiast for works that President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration had created. That presented an obstacle to dismantling the Fiscal Building.

As a compromise, the committee agreed to save a fresco in the front lobby that had an historic Art Deco image. Rolandelli and other committee members agree that for Redwood City and San Mateo County, that was a battle well worth winning. In 2005, work began to demolish the Fiscal Building, restore the original courthouse façade and construct the plaza. The following year, the city celebrated the opening of Courthouse Square.

That’s not to say the Fiscal Building didn’t have its good points or its fans. Rolandelli recalls that Jean Cloud, another pioneer in historic preservation efforts, “didn’t want to see it come down.” The WPA structure “was actually quite nice. It’s just unfortunate that they stuck it in front of the courthouse. … The overriding factor was that (the removal in 2005) was going to uncover the historic gem behind it.”

Not only did the demolition open the entrance to the courthouse, it allowed for the creation of Courthouse Square, where events take place almost year-round ranging from concerts to a salsa festival and from an Oktoberfest to corporate events. On most Tuesday evenings, the Redwood City Improvement Association lights up the courthouse exterior with a changing 3D light show.

Working in collaboration, city and county governments invested about $20 million in restoring the landmark courthouse for the museum, including seismic repairs and upgrades to the structure and to the stunning stained-glass domes in the atrium and in Courtroom A. The county continues to maintain the structure and currently has crews working to restore the deteriorating sandstone exterior walls. The museum gets an annual $200,000 subvention from the county, which also provides electricity, gas and water services.

Museum officials take justifiable pride in the fact that it has been accredited since 1972 by the American Alliance of Museums. Accreditors go “measure everything about you,” Postel says, from financial reports, governance, standards of exhibitions, care of the collections, compliance with rules for nonprofits and more.

“It’s not easy to get accredited,” he adds. “There are about 40,000 museums in America and only about 1,000 are actually accredited. It’s so rigorous that a lot of museums don’t go through it.” During the transition from CSM to downtown, it wasn’t easy, he recalls with a laugh. “It was a horrible time to be reaccredited. We were still cleaning up all the dirt from construction. We moved in too soon. One of the things you have to do if you are a museum is you have to be really clean.” But accreditors knew “we were really trying,” he says.

A 2011 report by the AAM’s visiting accrediting committee offered high praise for the historical association for maintaining “a commitment to high standards during a period of unprecedented growth and change for the organization.” A reviewer was struck by “the spirit and drive of the staff” and board members seemed actively engaged, focused on the future and results-oriented. One of the “inspiring” highlights for the visitors was meeting leaders of the active and committed volunteers, including docents and people who raise funds at a used bookstore.

The reviewers also took note of the fact that the majority of the budget comes from private contributions and earned income, and comparatively little from public funds, a validation of the level of commitment from the board and support from the community. Of the total 2018-19 $1,588,500 budget, about $550,000 comes from the annual campaign and corporate and foundation support and another $200,000 from the annual San Mateo County History Makers dinner.

Where some small museums “get a bit too bogged down in the minutiae of little stuff,” Postel says, “I think we do a better job than most history museums in putting our story in context of the larger themes of Western and American history.” In planning the exhibit space, care was taken to show the county as a microcosm in a larger narrative – the story of native Californians, the impact of the missions, immigration and so on – as well as what in San Mateo County history is unique.

Caltrain, for example, operates on a rail corridor that dates back to 1863-64 and was the first commuter railroad west of the Mississippi. The first bit of highway constructed for the automobile was built between San Bruno and Burlingame, according to Postel. Then, of course, there’s the story of Silicon Valley and the entrepreneurs who pioneered in electronics, biotechnology, internet and other leading-edge endeavors.

Many displays include interactive aids to provide more depth as well as hands-on involvement. Young visitors to the Journey to Work gallery are encouraged to ride in a stagecoach, weigh gold, send a telegram and drive a streetcar. Nearly every gallery includes tangible material to recreate an historic experience. Visitors can experience what it took to pack a person’s worldly possessions in a shipping trunk. Or choose to interconnect stones just as workers had done to build the Crystal Springs Dam.

The county’s shipping legacy is celebrated in the Charles Parsons’ Ships of the World exhibit where remarkable ship models he made are displayed. (A fun fact: The San Carlos was the first ship to sail into San Francisco Bay.) The gallery also presents murals and artifacts of some of the great sailing ships that wrecked on the county’s rugged coast along with the original Fresnel lens from the Montara Lighthouse that later helped sailors avoid disaster. The museum also celebrates Redwood City’s legacy as San Francisco Bay’s deep-water port, the port’s importance to the city’s growth and its continued contribution to commerce.

From the beginning, immigration has played a major role in the county’s development and that dynamic is celebrated in the Land of Opportunity exhibit where people from all parts of the world have made the Peninsula one of the most culturally rich in the nation. Colorful costumes of early settlers present a striking display.

Silicon Valley technology has been a dominant economic force in the county and the History Makers exhibit takes a tour through recent history and showcases the entrepreneurs and other business people who made a major impact. On one of the exhibit’s walls, a static mural timeline of entrepreneurs will soon be replaced with two large flat screens to bring contemporary, dynamic life to that space.

One of the newest exhibits celebrates the county’s fame in the surfing community. No, not just web surfing, but riding the giant waves at Mavericks Beach, just north of Half Moon Bay. Visitors start by stepping on a surfboard near a big window overlooking the plaza and Fox Theatre. From this perch, it’s possible to imagine that this 40-foot perspective is what Mavericks surfers experience when they begin their amazing descent. Then one can take a few steps into a high-tech surfing interactive display, mount a surfboard and choose a wave to ride.

A large video screen interacts with foot manipulations on the board to negotiate down a selection of waves, safely make it through a passage with rocks on either side and dismount. The virtual experience lets visitors test surfing skills without getting wet.

Courtroom A is a destination for museum visitors as well as a popular space for special events. Like the domed rotunda, this large courtroom was restored to its 1910 origins. Superior Court Judge George Buck, whose portrait hangs on the wall, presided there until 1932. In fact, cases were heard in the historic courtroom until 1998.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe’s roots are deeply connected to downtown Redwood City and its courts. His father had considered going to work for a big law firm in San Francisco but a judge in the historic courthouse urged him to practice law in San Mateo County. He did — for five decades. Steve began his career at the DA’s office in 1975 when it was located in the old courthouse and he was sworn in as district attorney in Courtroom A.

The famous courtroom is still used for ceremonial events such as swearing in new judges. During most regular museum hours, visitors can sit at the bench, named in honor of retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who worked in the county’s district attorney’s office after graduating from Stanford Law School in the early 1950s.
“The museum has grown over the years just like Redwood City has grown,” Pierce says, “and it just keeps getting better and better. And there are wonderful plans for the future.”

Lathrop House, one of the Peninsula’s oldest mansions, built in 1863 by Benjamin Lathrop, San Mateo County’s first clerk, will be carefully moved to the back of the courthouse where Hamilton and Marshall streets intersect. The house currently sits on land on Hamilton Street opposite the Hall of Justice, where the county has plans for constructing offices and a plaza. The historic house was last moved in 1905 from Broadway, where the Fox Theatre now sits. Back then, the movers placed logs under the structure and pulled the big house with horses.

Redwood City resident Dee Eva, a member of the historical association board who has been involved with the plans for the relocated Lathrop House, says a company which specializes in historic properties will be handling the transportation job.

“It’s a clear shot,” she says. “They will pick it up, move it forward onto the street, then they are going to pull it down the street in the same orientation a couple hundred feet across Marshall Street and then just back it up and put it on the lot.” The interior furnishings have been removed and stored in containers for the moving date, which has slipped several times. A new foundation and utility work still need to be done before Lathrop House can move to its new home behind the museum.

Rolandelli had had his doubts about how moving the house might affect its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. But at a meeting in May in Palo Alto, the state Historic Resources Commission said the status would be unimpaired, which took care of that concern.

Eva, who has been advocating for a Redwood City history museum for several years, says two interior walls will be taken down to create space for a gallery where city memorabilia and artifacts can be exhibited. Realtor John Shroyer, who has a collection of bottles and ephemera, will provide the first display. She and Pierce say the move should prove beneficial because Lathrop House will be open more often because of the connection with the museum.

“I think it’s the crown jewel of Redwood City historic properties,” Eva says. The house will be illuminated in such a way that it will look dramatic and “really shine.”

According to Eva and Historical Association President Postel, plans are also in the works for a new carriage house to showcase the 30 mostly Brewster era (1810 to 1905) carriages that have been stored in the museum’s 5,000-square-foot warehouse. The carriages that came to the museum once belonged to Lurline Matson Roth, who owned the Filoli Estate. Plans call for a two-story structure next to Lathrop House at the corner of Marshall Street and Middlefield Road. The proposed design would create an open-air rooftop space that could be used for gatherings such as small weddings, parties and corporate events. Postel says many private collectors own carriages and vehicles that could be displayed too.

More immediately, there are plans to have a natural history gallery and redo the immigrants and entrepreneurs galleries, he adds. After 34 years on the job, Postel says his enthusiasm is undiminished. “I am having so much fun,” he says. “It’s great to work here, just with a terrific staff and the volunteers have always been the best group of volunteers.”

Ready to make some more history.

Redwood City nets $100,000 grant for traffic safety patrols

in Community/Featured/Headline by
Date/Time: 03/10/2019 0433 hours Suspect: Scott Thompson (In-custody) Location: 2380 El Camino Real On Sunday, March 10th, 2019, Redwood City Police Officers responded to the Capri Motel, room #220, on a report of subject who called “911” to report she was "hurt really bad." Officers responded to the scene, and located the victim, who was bleeding profusely from the head. The victim told officers she had been assaulted by Scott, and he fled the scene. Officers located the suspect walking northbound El Camino Real. The suspect was identified as Scott Thompson, 36 years old. Thompson was subsequently arrested for attempted murder and booked into the San Mateo County Jail. The victim was transported to Stanford Hospital for non-life threatening injuries. Anyone that may have additional information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact the Redwood City Police Department at 650-780-7100 or the Redwood City Police Department’s Tip Line at 650-780-7107. This message approved by A/LT Casey Donovan

A $100,000 state grant will mean more DUI saturation patrols in Redwood City, along with additional patrolling of intersections where pedestrian and bicyclists are most often involved in collisions.

The Redwood City Police Department announced today it has received the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) grant to implement a year-long enforcement and public awareness program. The grant is part of an ongoing collaborative relationship between Redwood City police and OTS, and a “key component in our efforts to improve traffic safety in our community,” Redwood City Police Chief Dan Mulholland said.

In 2019, the grant will help fund checks for seat belt and child safety seat compliance, patrols targeting speeding, red light and stop sign infractions and traffic safety education programs for youth and community members, among others.

A guide to surviving pumpkin spice season

in Featured/Food/Headline by

If pumpkin is king this time of year, then pumpkin pie spice is the dark overlord. I say this as someone who actually likes the sweet, warm marriage of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. It’s soothing, cozy, and delicious. But let’s be real: it’s everywhere. Thanks to Starbucks, what was once a McCormick spice blend bought once a year now spices up an entire season. If it can be baked, drunk or sniffed, it comes in pumpkin spice.

But what if you don’t love pumpkin spice, or what if you just need a break, a little variety? Pumpkins, after all, don’t have to be limited to sweet pies and nostalgia-inducing lattes. They can be bright with zests of ginger and lemon, have a little kick with cayenne. And did you know that pumpkins can also be paired with cheese? Think feta, Gruyere, and Parmesan. But maybe you just need to go full detox on pumpkin and pumpkin spice. Don’t despair, there is hope for you, too.

If you can relate, I have two recipes for you. The first is a new favorite of mine, a vegan pumpkin soup. Don’t write this one off because it’s vegan: It’s creamy (yes, even without dairy), savory, and perfectly filling. Sure, it incorporates pumpkin and some cinnamon and nutmeg, but since it forgoes the heavy hand of cloves and allspice, you can rest assured this is not a pumpkin spice soup. You can play around with this recipe too, adding the aforementioned pumpkin-friendly ingredients — ginger, cayenne — you know the drill. Sprinkle it with some cheese, or better yet, serve it with grilled cheese sandwiches. What’s important here is it will fill your house with a delicious aroma that doesn’t evoke a sense of bonfire by Yankee candle.

The second is for the true anti-pumpkin-ites: butterscotch pudding. A classic, but overlooked flavor, this recipe is without even a sprinkle of cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg, making it as far from an overplayed fall dessert as you can get without bringing a kumquat soufflé to the party. (Note: I actually don’t know if that exists, but I can promise you if it does, save it for later). This pudding has the sweetness of caramel but since it’s made with brown sugar instead of white, there is an extra, molasses-y layer of complexity. And while it might be tempting to rip open a box and mix with milk, this recipe is so easy, it’d be a shame to take that shortcut. The little extra effort to make it from scratch will be rewarded with a dessert that is richer, creamier and more decadent than anything that started as a powder. This is a great choice for all the desserts, from Halloween to New Year’s.

Simple Pumpkin Soup
Time: 15 minutes prep, 1 hour cooking Serves: 4

• One 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree
• 2 diced medium shallots (yield ¼ cup)
• 3 minced garlic cloves (yield 1 1/2 Tbsp)
• 2 cups vegetable broth (DIY or store-bought)
• 1 cup light coconut milk (or substitute other non-dairy milk with varied results)
• 2 Tbsp maple syrup or agave nectar (or honey if not vegan)
• 1/4 tsp each sea salt, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg

1. Dice the shallots and the garlic (use a garlic press if you have one).
2. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil to a large saucepan over medium heat add 1 Tbsp olive oil and then add the shallot and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes,
or until slightly browned and translucent. Turn down heat if cooking too quickly.
3. Add remaining ingredients, including the pumpkin, and bring to a simmer.
4. Transfer soup mixture to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree the soup. If using a blender, place a towel over the top of the
lid before mixing to avoid any accidents. Pour mixture back into pot.
5. Continue cooking over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes and taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Adapted from

Butterscotch Pudding
Time: 20 min prep time; 3+ hours chilling time Serves: 4

• ½ cup packed dark brown sugar
• teaspoon fine sea salt
• ½ cup heavy cream
• 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
• 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
• 1 ½ cups whole milk
• 2 large egg yolks
• ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a medium heatproof bowl and set aside. You’ll be pouring your hot pudding through the
sieve to make for an extra-smooth pudding.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine dark-brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, cream,
and egg yolks; add to saucepan and whisk to combine.
2. Whisking constantly, cook over medium-high until mixture thickens and is bubbling, 8 to 12 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low
and cook, whisking, 1 minute. Don’t overdo it here, but do not skip that last minute as it will help cook off any cornstarch flavor.
3. Remove pan from heat and pour mixture through sieve into bowl. Stir in butter and vanilla until combined.
4. Press plastic wrap directly against surface of pudding to prevent skin from forming and refrigerate 3 hours (or up to 3 days).
To serve, whisk until smooth and divide among four small bowls.
Adapted from

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