MVLA board approves in-person return in red tier

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, CARLY HELTZEL AND OLIVIA HEWANG, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

The Mountain View–Los Altos School District board tonight unanimously approved the plans and budget for an optional in-person return in the red tier of coronavirus restrictions, but did leave room for further amendment later this month. 

Tonight’s development serves as an addendum to the board’s previous approval of a plan that would’ve seen the district take its first steps to an in-person return in the orange tier, presumably speeding up the timetable for a broader hybrid return sometime in the orange or yellow tiers.

Anticipating loosening guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, trustees had considered pushing the approval out two weeks, but ultimately voted to approve the plan at tonight’s meeting in the event that the county moves into the red tier before the end of the month.

Currently, Santa Clara County sits in the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions, needing to fall substantially in the number of new cases per 100,000 residents metric to fall to the red tier.

PLANS

Under the district’s return model, students will work on campus once a week in a “study hall” format, participating in remote classes while physically present in a classroom with other students from the same “stable group.”

In a departure from the current “cohort” model in operation throughout the purple tier, the number of students in a classroom will not be limited to 14, instead only limited by the number of students that can fit in the room maintaining a 6-foot distance.

Stable groups will be assigned to specific “zones” on campus, with no shared facilities, although students within the groups will still be held to distancing restrictions; the extra step of separating the broader groups would in theory provide another layer of safety.

State guidance puts no cap on the size of stable groups, although tentative district plans set the largest group at around 90, for the most part assigned by grade level.

Last week, Associate Superintendent of Personnel Services Leyla Benson indicated to the Post that the district is operating some 15 cohorts across its sites, including cohorts for critical learners, English learners, students with individualized education programs, supervised study, academic support, AVID and the Advanced Scientific Investigations course. It is currently unclear how these cohorts will be affected by these latest plans.

The district’s tentative schedule for the first three weeks of an in-person return in the red tier of coronavirus restrictions (via MVLA school district)

The district’s tentative schedule outlines a phased approach that will bring increasing numbers of students on campus over a three-week period, allowing additional time to hire more substitute staff and work out logistical kinks. 

Substitute teachers will supervise the groups, rather than full-time teachers who will still run remote classes, although District Teachers’ Association President Dave Campbell indicated that some full-time staff may volunteer to supervise groups.

The district’s approved budget for the in-person return in the red tier of coronavirus restrictions (via MVLA school district)

The plan does come with a hefty price tag of $1.2 million, in part funded by federal coronavirus relief aid, largely put toward the additional substitute teachers needed to supervise groups.

That budget, however, was quickly approved by trustees, with the majority of the debate surrounding the return plans themselves.

As bemoaned by a handful of community members during the meeting’s public comment, the study hall format doesn’t allow for any in-person instruction, with the learning experience being essentially the same as remote learning — a far cry from a handful of other high schools across the nation currently participating in full-on hybrid instruction with in-person lectures and activities.

“The benefit is [students] get this social interaction during lunch, during break and after classes,” Distance Learning Administrator Teri Faught argued. “This is our first stage in getting our students back in classes in a very structured environment.”

In a district survey, a majority of students indicated interest in returning to campus if “conditions safely allow,” but a similar majority rejected a hypothetical in-person return similar to the study hall format approved by the board tonight.

OPPOSITION TO BROADER HYBRID RETURN

While the teacher’s union expressed some degree of support for the district’s plans for the red tier — largely because teachers will continue operating remotely, with only substitute staff supervising groups in-person — the union has previously expressed vehement disapproval of any broader hybrid return that’d include in-person instruction, as opposed to the essentially remote model of tonight’s approved plan.

There is currently no indication that any plans for such a hybrid return are in the works, as well as at what point that return could even happen. Superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer previously indicated that that may happen sometime in the yellow tier, but any plans at this point would be subject to collective bargaining with the teacher’s union.

“I think the vast majority of teachers are pretty freaked out about returning right now,” Campbell, the union president, said in an interview with the Post in January.

Conceding that teachers and students alike are struggling through distance learning, Campbell said that the potential cost of bringing large groups back on campus could be its own “superspreader event.”

“You want me to expose myself, and sacrifice my life potentially?” Campbell said. “I think when you look at the trade off, making it through a couple months and surviving at home is a lot better than going back in person and losing a classmate, losing a teacher, losing a family member because we opened up too soon.”

Los Altos High School science teacher Darren Dressen runs a cohort of students enrolled in the specialized, hands-on Advanced Science Investigation class. 

His 22 students rotate their in-person days so only about six to eight students are in the classroom at one time; they work on their projects in the lab during third period and go to their other classes on Zoom.

Dressen, echoing Campbell’s disapproval of a hybrid return, said he knows several teachers across the country whose schools have tried to return using a hybrid model and had to go back to remote learning due to an outbreak or “logistical nightmares.”

“Everywhere I’ve looked on message boards, it’s a disaster. It just doesn’t work very well,” Dressen said. “So I wouldn’t be up for that type of hybrid learning.” 

Dressen addressed how the different models of hybrid learning, including weekly alternating groups of students on campus or breaking up the day into morning and afternoon cohorts, are ineffective and “messy,” especially with the possibility that students could have to change schedules or switch teachers.

Another teacher who oversees an academic support cohort on Wednesdays, Michael Prehn, said that he knows many teachers would not want to or be able to return in-person because it is too much of a safety risk; however, as Prehn said he is healthy and not in contact with any at risk people, he chose to volunteer as a teacher for the original in-person cohorts.

“I think a lot of teachers would love to be back in the classroom, but for a lot of people, they’re extremely worried and anxious that if you were going to be exposed to a virus, that they could really hurt someone that they love,” Prehn said.

Campbell similarly cited this as one of his greatest concerns with returning — even after being vaccinated, as there is no evidence that vaccinated individuals can’t carry and spread the virus — as the reason why he didn’t sign up to teach a cohort.

“My wife would not let me. It’s just a matter of bringing it home; we’ve had cohorts shut down because people got exposed, we’ve had people test positive,” Campbell said. “I don’t want to do that to my wife. She doesn’t deserve that.”

And although his curriculum has been cut down to the bare bones and the costs of distance learning by far outweigh any potential benefits — such as not having to commute from San Francisco every day — he said everyone has persisted and persevered.

“I’ve been amazed, just absolutely amazed, at how resilient my students are and how engaged they are,” Campbell said. “I love seeing their smiling faces on the zoom. Again, this is not as good as in-person, but I think it’s the next best thing.”

Gil Rubinstein contributed to the reporting on this story.

The missing perspective: Mountain View’s RV residents shed light on their daily struggles, the real impact of Measure C and empathy

STORY BY NATALIE ARBATMAN AND CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTOS BY CARLY HELTZEL

When Janet Stevens goes for a walk down her street, just like anyone else, she’ll strike up a conversation and smile warmly, talking to her equally friendly neighbors. 

But after they watch her cross the road and enter her home, something changes: People avoid making eye contact with her, uneasily cross to the other sidewalk to avoid her, throw trash at her home and harass her.

That’s just a fraction of what Stevens faces as a resident living in one of Mountain View’s around 280 recreational vehicles — more widely known as RVs.

“At first it startled me because I thought that [my neighbors and I] kind of had a rapport of at least saying ‘Hi,’ but now I understand that you can’t even acknowledge that I’m there,” Stevens said. “They wouldn’t look at me at all. I mean, they literally wouldn’t acknowledge my existence.” 

Stevens first moved into an RV when she lost her job due to extenuating medical circumstances. It took a thick skin to prevent her feelings from being hurt by the “degrading” and “shaming” look in her neighbors’ eyes, Stevens said. But after she got over the initial shock, she started trying to chat with people on the street in an attempt to humanize her and her neighbors. 

“I think the perception of who we are is the biggest problem because I think they believe we’re a group of people that we don’t represent,” Stevens said.

If you walked down the line of RVs, knocking on each door and talking to each person, she said, it would be just the same as any apartment building; they’re occupied by people ranging from those who have lost their partners and were forced to live off of one income, nurses, teachers, ex-firefighter and police officers who can’t afford the expensive rates of the Bay Area. 

And, according to Charles Wilkins — Stevens’ neighbor and fellow RV resident — other “good, law abiding citizens and productive members of the community.” 

“All we’re trying to do is survive,” Wilkins said. “They’re not crooks, they’re not bad people; they’re people who’ve worked hard all their lives but for one reason or another had to move out of their home.”

“The idea that we are a lesser group than the rest of the community is absolutely not true,” Stevens said. 

The misconceptions about Mountain View’s vehicularly housed residents are now posing a potentially life-threatening danger, they said, as the city implements Measure C to restrict oversized vehicles from parking on the majority of city streets.

THE IMPACT OF MEASURE C

Measure C — a recently instituted law that prohibits parking oversized vehicles on streets 40 feet wide or less — was passed by Mountain View voters on the November ballot, making the already precarious situation of both Stevens and Wilkins more unstable.

After the measure passed, the Mountain View City Council voted in December to reinstate its parking ban on 75% of city streets, displacing many of the area’s vehicularly housed residents.

“It’s heartbreaking when you see people not only forced to live in their car, but they’re trying to be happy about it,” Wilkins said. “And they’re being pushed away, because people think it looks bad. They don’t take into consideration who the person is, or the fact that they’re a person at all.”

Several city council members have said that their reasoning behind Measure C was to incentivize those living in RVs to pursue more permanent housing solutions and to promote affordable housing. But Stevens and Wilkins said that this simply does not work in the ways the council thinks it will.

“[Living here] is not a choice anyone makes willingly. … They are forced to do it,” Stevens said. “So the idea that [the city is] enabling us by allowing us to park on the streets is not realistic.”

Echoing this sentiment, Wilkins said that “affordable housing” is a relative term, especially in the COVID-19 economy.

“Affordable for me is not what they think it is,” he said. “[Moving] into an apartment that would be under ‘affordable housing,’ … it’s unattainable for a lot of people, myself included.”

Stevens said that much of the RV community resents the lawmakers for lumping their homes into the same category as all oversized vehicles, including moving trucks and 18-wheelers — she said she doesn’t believe the city council is working in their best interests.

Stevens is pictured before her RV. The newly instituted Measure C puts mobile home residents like Stevens and Wilkins in even more precarious a situation than before. (Carly Heltzel)

Stevens also said the measure is a result of the city council approaching the issue with a “not in my backyard” mentality, in which residents designate local issues, such as homelessness, as unwanted and attempt to push them out of their communities.

Stevens said the residents of the apartments they live near “don’t have a problem with us.” Instead, she said they’re worried about the safety hazards posed by other oversized vehicles such as 18-wheelers being parked on corners or in bike lanes.

 “If they could have voted with us, they would; they just had to vote against the other oversized vehicles,” Stevens said.

“We’re being thrown together in a group that should contain nothing more than moving trucks and tow trucks and things like that, but they’re throwing us RVers in there and all we’re trying to do is survive,” Wilkins added.

The council’s other solutions, such as Safe Parking lots — privately owned parking lots where oversized vehicles are allowed to park — present their own problems, according to Stevens.

Because of a medical condition that prevents her from regulating her core body temperature, Stevens needs to have her generator on to keep her heater running almost all the time, especially when it’s cold out in the winter. 

“[Safe Lots] sound really good if you don’t know anything about RVs,” Stevens said. “You need to run a generator to have any power, … and when you’re in a Safe Parking Lot, you’re not allowed to run your generator from [5 p.m. to 9 a.m.]. I couldn’t live in a Safe Lot.”

Prior to COVID-19, residents could only park in the Safe Lots at night, Wilkins added, causing them to waste gas moving to and from the lots and forcing their lives to be dictated entirely by that schedule.

But the root of the issue goes beyond the ineffective solutions, stemming from a lack of consideration and communication with people who are supposed to benefit from these resources — the RV residents.

“They say they’re trying to come up with a good solution and to help people out in a dignified way, but I’d like to point out that the people who are saying this are not proactive in any way with talking to people,” Wilkins said. “The people that are living out here have no say. If they truly wanted to help or make a difference, they would get some of us involved.”

He added that the lack of empathy from city council is “tearing [the city] down.”

“I don’t know when we quit caring about each other,” Wilkins said. “Now it’s just, ‘You’re in my way, you need to go.’”

And although many have told them to do just that, these residents said they can’t leave; they can only survive here. 

“JUST MOVE SOMEWHERE CHEAPER”

As a result of the expensive housing rates in California, many people are being forced out of their homes and onto the streets or into vehicles. But finding a permanent place to live is not as easy as simply moving out of the state, according to Stevens and Wilkins. 

For Stevens — who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, is a breast cancer survivor, must get an epidural shot every three months and has heart issues, among other medical conditions — moving out of the Bay area is virtually impossible. 

One of Stevens’s medical issues, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is so rare that she said there are only two places in the country where she can get the medication necessary to survive, and one of them is Stanford hospital. If she moved anywhere else, she couldn’t be treated, which could be life-threatening.

As a former worker for the state, her health insurance comes from the government’s Medicare system, while Wilkins, who has diabetes, is covered by Medi-Cal, another government insurance plan.

Because Wilkins receives health care from Santa Clara County, if he were to move out of the area, there is no certainty that his insurance would be approved or that he could receive the necessary medications in a different county. 

Not only is this where Stevens and Wilkins have trusted doctors and medical facilities, but Stevens said that she wouldn’t survive without her community here.

Stevens said she often calls her friends and acquaintances to drive her to the hospital, or bring her medicine or food when her medical conditions prevent her from leaving her RV. 

“If I was to get up and leave, my inability to have people support me and get my resources, for friends to bring me food and drive me to the doctor and things like that would be completely removed from my life,” Stevens said. “That would be life-threatening.”

Wilkins echoed this idea, citing the loss of a support system as his concern with relocating to a cheaper area. 

“I mean, everybody I know who can support me — not just supporting money-wise, but just raising moral support — is here,” Wilkins said. “When you’re my age, 50 years old or even older, and you move out of an area and you don’t know anybody, it’s really scary. It’s a scary world out there and you can’t be guaranteed anything when you’re moving to a new area.”

THEIR SITUATIONS

Wilkins is a professional musician, who, prior to COVID-19, played gigs at local cafes and restaurants with his band. 

“When you’re on tour, you have a lot of money in your pocket, but we don’t have a retirement plan, we don’t have medical insurance, we don’t have benefits; everything comes out of our pocket,” Wilkins said. “So I [would have to] stop doing what I love and do something that I absolutely hate.”

Wilks strumming a guitar in front of his RV. He was a professional musician before he had to move out onto the streets into an RV. (Carly Heltzel)

He has held jobs ranging from owning his own construction company to being a bouncer and a bounty hunter. But Wilkins, despite having an impressive work record under his belt, said it would be difficult for either of them to find jobs now.

“I’m in an age range where they don’t want to hire me even though I have the experience that they want,” Wilkins said. 

Wilkins’ lack of income coupled with the death of his mother forced him into an RV — he had previously lived with his mother in a mobile home until she passed away three years ago.

“I had nowhere to go — no house, no money,” he said. “I wasn’t allowed to stay in the mobile home, so I was basically on the street for a while, couch surfing, and then I finally got my hands on an RV, and moved into that.” 

Stevens used to be a government employee for the state of California, until she lost the ability to use her legs for two years, after which she retired disabled. She said she lived in a house in Mountain View, then in a duplex in Cupertino, and moved into an RV when she couldn’t afford to live in a house anymore. 

“I had planned to get an RV because I knew I could not afford to live here, so I bought the RV with plans to travel a little bit and then find someplace else to live,” Stevens said. 

But her medical situation kept her tied to Stanford and the Bay Area. 

Stevens has lived in an RV for two years and three months, while Wilkins moved into one after the pandemic hit last March.

DIFFICULTIES

Living in an RV presents a wide array of hardships that neither Stevens nor Wilkins knew about before being forced to deal with them on a daily basis. 

“Nothing is easy,” Stevens said.

Just doing the basics, like making tea or breakfast, is challenging, if not impossible to do, according to Wilkins.

“Things you’ve been doing all your life like washing your hands and taking a shower, you have to plan all of this stuff out,” Wilkins said.

Stevens said “your whole life revolves around” water usage — even something that many take for granted like doing the dishes is a “big deal” because an RV can only store 50 gallons of dirty water before having to be emptied in a sewage facility in Redwood city. 

Driving to this facility, and anywhere else, is more complex than it seems. 

“If I don’t have gas, I have to go get it which is not cheap, and the idea of losing my spot is always a concern,” Stevens said. “To go get the gas is a big, big deal. You have to take everything down. My RV is locked for safety and on a level [to prevent it from rolling], so you’ve got to take that out, go get gas and come back.”

Similarly, for fear of losing his parking spot, Wilkins walks a mile to the nearest grocery store two to three times a week, since he said his refrigerator is essentially an ice box. And, he said, it simply costs too much to start the RV in the first place.

Wilkins and Stevens estimated that the gas mileage on an RV is about nine miles per gallon and, living on food stamps with no current income, a drive that is not essential to their survival is virtually impossible.

“I haven’t seen my daughter in about seven months because I can’t drive down [to L.A.] because I can’t afford the gas to get there and back,” Wilkins said.

Stevens said that gas is also vital to keep utilities in the RV running such as lighting, heating, air conditioning and refrigeration.

“I really can’t afford to run my generator, and when you don’t run your generator, you can’t run your heater,” Wilkins said. “When you’re sitting inside your RV and you can see your breath, you know it’s cold but really can’t afford to waste gas.”

The crucial role gas plays in providing adequate shelter from the elements makes it hard for Stevens to think about anything else. 

“When I wake up, I constantly think ‘Do I have enough gas? Do I have enough gas for my generator? Is everything working right?’ and God knows everything doesn’t work,” Stevens said. “There’s constantly something breaking.”

On top of these all-consuming day-to-day considerations, non-RV residents’ lack of understanding leads to concerns about sanitation. But contrary to what many believe, the RV residents are not “litterbugs” or “slobs,” Wilkins said.

“It’s as clean as it can be,” Stevens said. “If [the mess] were a problem, [city council] could have addressed that instead of just kicking us out. If it’s not sanitary, somebody should address it, but they have never done that.”

Throwing away their trash isn’t easy, but everyone on his street finds a way to keep their area clean, Wilkins added. In fact, almost all of the litter around the RVs got there by people driving by and throwing their trash at their homes: a dehumanizing experience, Stevens said.

For a period of time, at least once a day — sometimes up to three times a day — the same man would drive by the line of RVs where Stevens and Wilkins are parked and throw plastic wine bottles at the RVs.

“It was in this position where not only did he throw his garbage at us, at the RVs, but it gives the impression that that’s who you are and that’s what you deserve,” Stevens said.

Once she realized the man’s pattern of throwing the bottles, Stevens began calling the police every time he came by and following him to tell them where he was.

“I was never gonna let him keep driving past and throwing the bottles like that,” Stevens said.

But every time he crossed a city border, Stevens was transferred to a new police department or highway patrol and it proved difficult to pursue him for enough time.

He eventually stopped throwing bottles — Stevens assumes it’s because the police finally caught up to him through her tracking efforts — but she said that he still drives by every day.

“It’s really scary to me because … he’s got nothing better to do with his time, which is shocking, and also why are you driving by when you aren’t throwing the bottles any more?” Stevens said. “So I’m a little fearful that he may have some more ideas to do something to harass us, but I don’t scare easily either.”

But this small victory made little more than a dent in the “constant stream” of trash being thrown at the RVs including condoms and other “dirty things like that,” according to Stevens.

Another individual would honk all the way down the line of RVs, often at 6 a.m. or 10 p.m., when many of the residents are sleeping. 

“I think the impression is ‘We’re gonna wake you and harass you,’” Stevens said. “Or whatever his intentions are, he honks all the way through.”

FOCUSING ON THE POSITIVE

Despite their tumultuous lives and unstable housing situations, both Wilkins and Stevens have found ways to stay positive. 

Stevens helps relocate abandoned dogs and has one of her own, Sally, with whom she plays hide and seek; Sally even knows the commands for “warmer” and “colder” to help her find toys that Stevens hides in her RV. 

When she lived in a house, Stevens took it upon herself to call dog owners who would abandon their pets at parks and asked them to bring their dogs to shelters, or if that wasn’t possible, she would drive over to the owner and pick up the dogs herself to ensure they were not used for bait or other cruel practices.

In fact, one of the dogs she picked up and rescued from abandonment was Sally. 

Sally had breast cancer, a hernia, and a host of other medical issues, as many abandoned dogs do but Stevens stuck with her through her recovery.

“She is now my love and my everything,” Stevens said.

According to Stevens, Sally goes crazy around Wilkins because she loves seeing him so much, and Sally keeps them all smiling.

Another bright spot in their lives is Wilkins’ love of music. Stevens said that he was simply “born to play” music and has a raw talent with his guitar and vocals. Wilkins strums original songs on his guitar to take him away from the grim realities of a strenuous life in an RV. 

His music connects him to the world around, but he said he wishes more people would listen to not just his music, but what RV residents have to say.

“There’s no difference between the people that are down here living in RVs and on your streets,” Wilkins said. “It’s just our homes are on wheels.”

Getting to know the new Mountain View Mayor: Kamei’s path through public service

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO COURTESY ELLEN KAMEI

The daughter of a Chinese–Puerto Rican mother and a father born in Japanese internment camps, Mountain View’s newly elected mayor, Ellen Kamei, said she became a public servant to offer her unique perspective of being a third-generation resident who has watched the city grow from a middle-class community to a tech and innovation hub. 

Her biggest focus as mayor will be tackling the issues of housing, transportation and environmental sustainability, noting the difficulty in ranking their importance, saying that “there are so many number-one priorities.” 

And, of course, the mayoral position comes with new responsibilities to mitigate the physical and mental impact of COVID-19 on the Mountain View community.

“At least for this year, in 2021, I feel like part of my unofficial duties is providing hope and trying to bring some brightness in what’s been a pretty dark time for a lot of people,” Kamei said.

Despite her love for public service, she did not always intend to go down this path. In high school, Kamei said she thought she was going to be a journalist until she participated in an internship program at The Mercury News and decided that the style of writing wasn’t for her. 

She was an English major in college, and only got involved in government when she moved back to Mountain View to live with her grandfather. 

Becoming involved in the community led her to be appointed to the environmental sustainability commission in 2012 before running for council two years later.  

Previously, she served as vice mayor in 2020 and was the chair of the Appointments Review Committee Council and Youth Services Committee as well as a member of the Transportation Committee and the Race, Equity and Inclusion Ad Hoc Subcommittee. 

Kamei emphasized that keeping people housed comes at the top of the list of priorities, noting that one way she intends to ensure this is through extending the eviction moratorium instituted early in the pandemic to protect struggling renters.

Before Kamei was first elected to city council in 2014, all seven of the council members were homeowners despite 60% of Mountain View residents being renters. Kamei said that she has a “different frame of view” from being a renter herself and also from experiencing the difficulty of moving back to an area with an increasingly expensive housing market.

“You go to school, maybe you go to college and further, and then you try to come back to the area and it feels like it’s really unattainable to live in this community,” Kamei said. “And so I think that that was the perspective and voice that I was hoping to bring.”

In fact, part of the reason she ran for council was so that those governing Mountain View would reflect the diversity of the community they serve; Kamei said that she felt her perspective as both a renter and a woman of color would prove to be a valuable perspective on the council.

As a part of the self-described “minority caucus of millennials,” Kamei along with fellow millennials Vice Mayor Lucas Ramirez and former council member Chris Clark served on council, together representing and giving power to the young voices in the community. 

Kamei served as vice-mayor for the year 2020 and said the main difference from her previous role is more responsibility as the spokesperson of the city and, of course, with more responsibility comes more meetings.

Throughout her years working in public service, Kamei said she has gotten to know the inner workings and ridiculous number of acronyms of the Mountain View government and she looks forward to her new role as the city’s leader. 

“Mountain View is truly a special place,” Kamei said in her remarks at the council meeting. “I am honored and humbled to be your mayor.”

Mountain View opens mass vaccination site

STORY AND PHOTO BY CARLY HELTZEL

Last Friday, the City of Mountain View opened its first mass vaccination site at the community center, currently serving eligible health care workers by appointments only on weekdays. 

Although private healthcare providers such as Kaiser Permanente and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation are vaccinating residents age 75 and older — with the Stanford system even vaccinating 65 and older — the city vaccination center is currently only administering to healthcare workers.

Prior to this latest opening, Santa Clara County only had sites in San Jose, which Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei said posed an issue to those who don’t have a car or other means to get there. The goal of the Mountain View site, she said, is to provide accessibility and widen the reach of distribution. 

“Convenience is key,” wrote County Supervisor Joe Simitian in a press release. “The more locations we have that serve folks where they live and work, the more likely it is we’ll be able to slow the tide of the virus. We need more vaccine, and more options that are both local and convenient.”

With plans to “ramp up quickly” to administering 1,000 vaccines per day, the site will initially take a moderate approach to avoid the website crashing due to high web traffic, as other vaccine websites have in the past. 

The city has also been coordinating with the county sheriff’s office and city police department to secure vaccines and mitigate traffic at the site.

“We are committed to bringing COVID-19 vaccines to the public as quickly and safely as possible,” Kamei said. “Mountain View was ready and willing to answer the call to action and provide the necessary leadership in standing up a vaccination site right away in partnership with the County of Santa Clara.”

Visit the county’s vaccine information page to find more information and schedule vaccine appointments, if eligible. 

MV Council elects Kamei and Ramirez as mayor and vice mayor

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY GIL RUBINSTEIN

As outgoing Mountain View City Council Members Chris Clark and John McAlister said their heartfelt goodbyes to a teary-eyed council, they were anticlimactically moved to the attendees box on Zoom while elected Council Members Margaret Abe-Koga, Sally Lieber, Lisa Matichak and Pat Showalter were sworn in by pre-recorded video oaths and designated panelists by the click of a button.

Tonight, the new city council took office and unanimously elected Ellen Kamei as mayor and Lucas Ramirez as vice mayor. 

Kamei served as vice mayor under former Mayor Abe-Koga, making them the first Japanese American mayor-vice-mayor pair in the mainland United States. Abe-Koga said she was more than happy to be handing the position of mayor down to Kamei’s “capable hands.”

Finding inspiration for her public service in the compassion and perseverance of the Mountain View community, Kamei said she hopes that it will build a better future for everyone.

McAlister echoed this appreciation for public service that being a council member provided him during his terms.

“You’d be amazed at the connections you’ve made and the impact you have during public service,” McAlister said. “Working with these people day in and day out was tremendous.” 

And despite the profound sadness for McAlister and Clark leaving the council, it was quickly replaced by an excitement to greet new Council Members Lieber and Showalter.

With State Senator Josh Becker calling her a “true champion for social justice” — highlighting her work in providing secure and affordable housing for the city — Lieber said that while on the council she will strive to bring empathy and respect to all encounters with the community. 

“Everybody is in, and no one is left out,” Lieber said. 

Similarly, Showalter said she is an advocate for environmental sustainability and housing security for all Mountain View residents, especially those in motor homes. She also said that among the multiple city councils she’s been on, Mountain View’s shows a civility across divides in opinion that is rare in today’s political climate. 

In all of the remarks throughout the evening, the council members expressed great pride in their city and a fervor to build a stronger community.

“In the words of outgoing Council Member John McAlister, there are only two types of people in this world: The people who live in Mountain View and the people who wish they did,” said County Supervisor Joe Simitian.

A look into the MV Housing Justice Coalition: activists protecting renters and mobile home owners

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY GIL RUBINSTEIN

Logging onto the Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition (MVHJC) Zoom call, you’d hardly expect to be greeted with a tight-knit, welcoming group of advocates laughing about how many trout brains makes a serving of food — but the amicable environment took nothing away from the gravity of what they were about to discuss. 

The activist group, comprised of members of the Mountain View community, seeks to protect apartment renters and residents sheltered in motorhomes from eviction, raised rent prices and displacement.

Following the Mountain View City Council’s vote to confirm its implementation of Measure C — the ban of oversized vehicles, including motor homes, from streets 40 feet wide or less — the advocacy group still hopes to delay the installation of the signs necessary to enforce the ban, continuing a year and a half long attempt to block the measure. 

“[The City] is going to run into the issue of enforcement,” said MVHJC member Jackie Cashen at tonight’s meeting. “One place where it’s likely we would be able to challenge is in selective enforcement. I don’t think they’ll enforce in a handful of cases because no one complains, but if they start enforcing it anywhere then it’s likely to become more of a problem.”

According to Cashen, motor home residents and advocates could appeal for a temporary injunction in light of the pandemic to delay the implementation — this is the last time to be moving people around, she said. 

Cashen said she lives in an apartment, but has been on the waiting list for affordable housing for over a year and a half. 

Despite many of their efforts ultimately being unsuccessful, the group continues to sound optimistic, with members continuing to use phrases like “if Measure C is implemented” — a stark contrast with some members of the City Council’s determination to make it happen. 

However, with new council members sworn in, the MVHJC is experiencing a supportive council for the first time in a while, according to MVHJC member Edie Keating.

Looking forward, former Mayor Lenny Siegal, a member of the coalition, said the next major issue the group has set its sights on is the Rental Housing Committee appointments that will take place in a few months. This committee is tasked with implementing and administering the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent acts, which provide protections for renters in Mountain View. 

Describing holding a seat on the committee as a “thankless task,” Siegal and the group discussed community members to nominate and the strategy in placing MVHJC’s endorsements; however, the organization is bracing for pushback from the council on many of the candidates they will endorse, given anti–rent control council members such as Lisa Matichak and Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga.

Through all of the group’s successes and roadblocks, the activists say they hope to regroup after Measure C, and continue to fight the housing crisis and work toward a “safe community” and “to protect vehicle residents against harassment and exclusion.”

For more information on the MVHJC, visit their website

Hands on at a distance: Evodyne Robotics Academy continues education online

STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN AND CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

If Evodyne Robotics Founder and CEO Raghav Gupta had waited just five more minutes, he knows he wouldn’t have been able to secure the domain name of his dreams. He spent a year coming up with the immaculate arrangement of letters and refreshed the purchasing page every day for a month, waiting for the 10-year lease of a German guy in China (the then-owner of the domain) to come up and free his company’s rightful website title. 

But finally he had his opportunity. He clicked the ‘buy now’ button faster than you can say “Evodyne Robotics,” and it was all his. Gupta emerged triumphant with his prized trophy: evodyne.co. It was perfection. 

Evodyne Robotics, now complete with its domain, strives to give high school students a hands-on and comprehensive education about the world of robotics, providing courses using a custom-designed robotic arm kit. 

The six-month program is split into month-long sessions, building up the robotic arm to do increasingly complex tasks. Students start by building the mechanical parts, and those who continue code mobile phone apps to control the robot, attach wheels and a webcam to drive it remotely and eventually enable autonomous navigation. 

The program, however, had to undergo massive changes with the onset of COVID-19. The switch to go online was a “weird moment,” Gupta said, especially given how much of robotics is rooted in hands-on work and instruction.

Seeing it as an opportunity to expand the program, though, Gupta soon embraced the change. The classes shifted to Zoom, with materials mailed to participants in kits. Initially, Gupta struggled with demonstrating work over the video platform and working with students individually, as camera angles and quality could not simulate a live classroom for detailed work. But Gupta’s later addition of a webcam to kits allowed instructors to better monitor student progress as they would in normal sessions.

“The teaching has to be adjusted so that everybody can do it at the same speed,” he said. “The ones that do work faster don’t get bored, and the ones who got stuck on a step don’t start getting overwhelmed by the fact that they are behind.”

Despite the difficulties, Gupta said that “every single day we are able to improve some aspect of the robot based upon feedback from the kids.” Now not limited to students within driving distance of their Downtown Mountain View location, Gupta said online instruction has also opened up new possibilities for expansion; Evodyne has begun enrolling students from throughout the rest of California, and there’s even interest coming from as far as New York.

As Gupta continues to expand Evodyne, he’s also started to introduce a new initiative aimed at uplifting women in robotics. Gupta said that despite the robustness of many high schools’ robotics programs, girls have not always felt welcome.

Aileen Mi, a Lynbrook High School student who attended one of Evodyne’s summer sessions earlier this year, said that this effort was one of the factors that drew her to Evodyne in the first place. Prior to participating in Evodyne’s program, Aileen attended a Stanford course on embedded systems, but soon realized that she was the only female in her class. 

“There is inequality and under-representation in robotics,” Aileen said. “My experience with that drew me to Evodyne.”

Aileen is now interning at Evodyne Robotics, helping with its marketing and outreach.

“I hope when other people see that girls are doing these things, and we are working hands on with the robots, girls will be more interested in wanting to do something like this because it is a male-dominated industry,” she added, speaking about her own participation in the program.

The results are encouraging, as Gupta said that groups like Monta Vista High School’s Girls Who Code Club have requested a robotics program specifically targeted for girls.

“I have noticed that girls in local high schools are interested, but they get intimidated by the size and scope of the high school robotics programs that are already there,” he said.

These large high school robotics programs are further beset with too great a focus on artificial competitions, Gupta said, preventing students from getting a deep understanding of all aspects of the building process. These competitions, which generally involve challenges such as hurling a large ball as far as possible, are not realistic representations of the robotics industry today, he said.

“They designed their robotics programs to mimic high school sports, which is around big and heavy things,” Gupta said, later referring to football. “And there seems to be less focus on students learning the finer aspects like if you think about surgical robots, they are not big and giant, there’s a precision involved.”

Another shortfall that Gupta noted was that high school teams use the JavaScript language to code their robots despite modern robots using Python and C++ languages almost exclusively.

“It’s a good program, but I believe that it has fallen behind in teaching students the skills that modern robotics companies are looking for,” Gupta said.

Aileen said that Evodyne’s smaller initiative felt more genuine and authentic because Gupta and other instructors were more focused on a holistic understanding, even going so far as to delve into the physics and electronics behind what they were building.

Gupta echod this, saying that he wanted to make Evodyne’s program represent the future of the robotics industry in which they “will be everywhere in the consumer space.” In a few years, Gupta said that a fundamental knowledge of robots, like the education that Evodyne provides, will become invaluable to students hoping to succeed in STEM, just as computers have.

“Kids are already coming up with ideas which excite other kids and are exciting to me personally,” Gupta said. “My hope and my goal of having a robot on every desk and in every home, seems to be slowly taking some shape.”


Find more information about Evodyne Robotics at its website, and sign up for its January robotics session at the Robotic Academy page.

“I hate everything about this”: MV City Council approves implementation for Measure C, set to spend nearly $1,000,000 on street signs

STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN AND CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY CARLY HELTZEL

In the early hours of this morning, the Mountain View City Council unanimously approved the staff recommendation for the implementation and budget of Measure C, following hours of discussion and contentious public comment. 

The measure, approved by voters this November, will prohibit the parking of oversized vehicles — namely, recreational vehicles (RVs) — on “narrow streets,” defined as those that are 40 feet wide or less. The ordinance is set to go into effect in 10 days on Saturday, December 19.

The resolution calls for the manufacture and installation of approximately 2,600 street signs, with a projected cost of $980,000. 

Some council members lauded the City’s various housing programs and maintained that Measure C will help the homeless get back on their feet.

“I believe that our city is compassionate,” Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga said. “I believe that our City Council is compassionate. We are not kicking people out of Mountain View — we are providing them places to go.”

In public comment, however, the resolution faced harsh criticism for its price and effect on mobile home residents. Resident Eva Tang said that spending time and money to implement the signs “is just so fiscally and environmentally irresponsible” of the City.

“I hate everything about this,” she said. “I hate that my neighbors like to criminalize poverty. If we are a city with any sort of compassion, please consider delaying this implementation.” 

Several others reiterated this sentiment, underlining the detrimental effects this measure could have on residents living in RVs; resident Steve Chessin expressed his disappointment with the City, imploring the Council to not “be Ebenezer Scrooges and kick the Bob Cratchits out of Mountain View.”

Several members of the public also reprobated the Council’s timeline, saying that it is not in the best interests of the city “to be fast-tracking the implementation of Measure C.” 

“In the midst of a pandemic, there’s no reason for us to be knocking on peoples doors and telling them they’re not welcome in our wealthy town,” resident Scott Haiden said. “Let’s take human rights seriously and treat people with dignity for once.” 

The Mountain View Police Department, however, said that it hoped to encourage residents to follow the measure through “voluntary cooperation,” as it has in enforcing pandemic restrictions. Sgt. Scott Nelson said that since COVID-19 began, MVPD has not towed any oversized vehicles and he expects this enforcement to continue.

“We’ve been able to work with residents and find solutions to some of the complaints that have come in,” he said. “I anticipate the same type of education, outreach and voluntary compliance when we do start enforcing the ordinance.”

Once street signs have been installed, complaint-driven enforcement will be used to uphold the measure, he added. In accordance with city laws, there must be visible signs on the over 150 specified street segments for any action to be taken.

A map of the restricted streets in the City, highlighted orange. (via City of Mountain View)

However, the number of signs required also received a great deal of disapproval during public comment. 

“There’s nothing more attractive than signposts with giant letters on them,” resident Alexander Brown said sarcastically. “Because who needs trees? At some point the sign density will be great enough to support its own ecosystem. Wow — very priorities, many wisdom, so leadership, much proud.” 

Restrictions on oversized vehicle parking on small streets were originally drafted in September of 2019, but were struck down because of a petition spearheaded by the Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition. Instead, they were moved onto the November 2020 ballot as Measure C, where voters passed the measure with 56.6 percent.

“This is an issue that has been going on for many years, and not to disparage, but if earlier councils had acted more quickly, we probably wouldn’t have an issue as large as we do now,” Abe-Koga said. “I would also call upon our neighboring cities to do the same. We do our part — we do more than our part — but we need other cities to participate.”

Council Members John McAlister, Lucas Ramirez and Chris Clark all said that they are not in favor of Measure C, despite the unanimous vote, in a rare moment of alignment between the Council and the public. They maintained, however, that the Council has an obligation to administer measures voted on by the people, regardless of personal opinion.

“When people vote, they expect — they demand — that we implement the law that they voted for,” Council Member John McAlister said. “And if you disagree or agree with it, that’s part of democracy: the majority rules.”

Allison Huang contributed to this report.