RV residents file lawsuit against Mountain View to block Measure C

STORY AND PHOTO BY CARLY HELTZEL

RV residents, represented by legal advocacy groups, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the City of Mountain View in an attempt to overturn Measure C — the ban on oversized vehicles, including RVs, on narrow streets.

As 83% of the city’s streets qualify as narrow, many members of the public have regarded Measure C as a backhanded ban on Mountain View’s RV residents fueled by a “Not In My Backyard” mentality. 

The lawsuit alleges that the ordinance was designed “to banish the City’s low-income populations.”

“It’s about the Constitution and not allowing discrimination against people that can’t afford housing,” plaintiff and RV resident Janet Stevens said. “Not only in the city of Mountain View but everywhere.” 

The legal groups leading the effort are the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and Disability Rights Advocates. They filed a six-plaintiff class action complaint under the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and the U.S. and California Constitutions, among others. 

The city’s most recent statement released Wednesday said that the ordinance is focused on traffic safety and treats RVs no differently than other oversized vehicles.

This, however, makes it worse in Stevens’ mind. 

“They’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” Stevens said about the ordinance. “They’re just disguising what they want to do by their title of making it street safety. This is ‘Not In My Backyard’ gone crazy.”

Stevens, the ACLU and many more have actively opposed Measure C from when it was first drafted as a city ordinance in September 2019. Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition spearheaded a petition that struck down the ordinance and forced it onto the November 2020 ballot as Measure C, where voters passed the measure with 56.6% margin.

In December 2020, city council approved the measure’s implementation — the installation of about 2,600 street signs that cost $980,000. Wednesday’s statement said sign installation, along with enforcement of the measure, is set to begin later this month.

Mayor Ellen Kamei and Council Member Margaret Abe-Koga were both unable to comment, citing it as an active lawsuit.

A modest guide to the Sunday morning Mountain View farmers’ market

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTOS BY CARLY HELTZEL AND ARYA NASIKKAR

It can be hard to navigate the more than 80 diverse stands at the Mountain View farmers’ market — each stocked with an array of fresh produce and quality products — but it’s hard to go wrong.

Here are some booths to look out for at the Mountain View Transit Center every Sunday morning:

AVILA FARMS

(Carly Heltzel)

Among the first stands you’ll spot is Avila Farms, a Hollister-based family farm that sells seasonal and year-round vegetables such as zucchini, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots and beets. 

Jeannette Avila, who works on the farm and at farmers markets, said that with their large family of eight all helping out, Avila Farms has expanded from the five-acre space her parents first bought in Watsonville to the 23-acre Hollister property they have operated on since 2002. Her parents first founded the farm after her mother moved to the U.S. from being a farmer in Mexico.

Smiling, Avila said she most enjoys interacting with customers at the farmers’ market.

“You see them more like friends and family, not just customers,” Avila said. “And they tell you how they made their produce or what meals they had with the vegetables, and it’s really nice to hear.” 

WEST FLOWERS

(Carly Heltzel)

Aside from food, the vibrant and full-bloomed bouquets of flowers at the family-run West Flowers Farm stand catch eyes further into the market.

While the choice between newly in-season sunflowers, soon-to-be-sold-out dahlias or full petaled rose-like ranunculus can be difficult, the TLC put into each one is clear.

“We love what we do and it shows in our flowers,” said Alma Calderon, daughter of West Flowers’ founders.

Her parents started the business over 30 years ago and have established relationships with their clients — going so far as to even trust their customers to pay for flowers at the next weekend’s farmers market. 

The flowers are freshly cut every night at their nursery in Colma and arranged in bouquets by Calderon’s mother. She described her mother as having a great eye for flower arrangements, with each bouquet ending up “different in its own right.”

“The whole thing that we’re doing here, it works well because my mom and dad just care so much about the growing and the people that they sell to,” Calderon said. “That’s what makes it successful, us wanting to be here every weekend with all the clients.”

A typical farmers’ market day means Calderon and her family all wake up at 4:30 a.m. to load the truck with everything picked out the night before, carefully selected based on customer preferences. They arrive around 7 a.m. to set up the stand before opening at 8. Calderon said the rest of the day goes quickly, because she’s doing work she’s passionate about.

“We just love working together and love being here,” Calderon said. “And we love seeing the expression on people’s faces when they come in to buy things.”

RODIN RANCH

(Carly Heltzel)

One of the most unique vendors at the market is Rodin Ranch, a family-run Almond farm that sells raw, unpasteurized almonds, flavored almonds, dried fruits and a plethora of almond butters.

The Modesto-based farm’s most popular items include the butter toffee almonds, or the more imaginative chili lemon flavored almonds as well as the honey roasted almond butter.

Vendor Charlie added that his family has been selling at the Mountain View Farmers Market for over 17 years now.

“I like the customers, the vendors, the vibe, the families that come in with kids,” Charlie said. “Yeah, just everything.”

LIVE EARTH FARM

(Carly Heltzel)

The 140-acre Watsonville-based Live Earth Farm has it all. The all-organic certified produce includes year-round vegetables and sold-out berries, stand worker Erin Harris said. She added that she “hands-down” likes their berries the best.

Harris, who used to work in the fields at Live Earth, said they rotate various crops on the 50 acres of farmable land so that nutrients are properly and naturally restored to the soil.

When asked about her favorite aspect of the farmers’ market, she said that the intra-vendor bartering system is always a fun way to get her morning yogurt, but she appreciates the overall “vibe” too. 

“It’s a nice little community,” Harris said. “You get to meet a lot of people.”

RAMOS FARM

(Carly Heltzel)

In a small Fresno County town called Sanger, Ramos Farms was founded almost 7 years ago and has been selling fruits at the farmers market ever since.

Specializing in stone fruits and citrus, depending on the season, Ramos Farms has “any stone fruit you can think of,” according to vendor Hugo Ramos, but he said he is partial to the “funny looking” and baseball-sized yellow peach variety called “Sweet Dreams.”

Ramos said he most enjoys teaching people about the nuances of the stone fruit world and having the opportunity to interact with so many customers.

“I love talking to people,” Ramos said. “I like meeting them and seeing what’s new [and] what they should learn about, what color [the fruit] is, how it should ripen up, anything like that.”

Parting with a simple message, Ramos said he encourages everyone to eat more fruit, citing health benefits — and of course that delicious taste.

COUNTRY RHODES

(Carly Heltzel)

As vendor Omar Cisneros described it, Country Rhodes is a “one stop shop” for all your produce needs, growing everything from avocados and cucumbers to tomatoes and watermelons.

And although Cisneros said his personal favorites are the figs and grapes, he said that Phil Rhodes, the son of the farm’s founder and its current owner, is known as the “Tomato Man” and tomatoes are considered their specialty. 

The family-owned farm was founded in 1945 by Phil Rhodes’ father in a small town in the San Joaquin Valley called Visalia.

Cisneros’ typical day at the Farmers’ Market mirrors that of most other vendors, he said, which largely includes running around the stand, getting everything organized, and serving their produce to as many people as possible. 

At almost every stand, the vendors seemed to agree that interacting with customers and providing a vital service is a mutually fulfilling experience.

“My favorite part is coming out here and bringing fresh produce to people who would otherwise have to go to grocery stores and get everything pre-packaged,” Cisneros said. “Being able to bring fresh produce to people makes my day.”

Beyond satisfying local sweet tooths, Los Altos’ Sweet Shop is a community staple

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL AND SIDDHANT KANWAR, PHOTOS BY EMILY MCNALLY

Harry Logan is such a regular at the Sweet Shop on Los Altos Ave. that the register has a special key just to ring up his order: a ham and scrambled egg sandwich with a coffee au lait.

The Sweet Shop — which likely has many patrons with a sweeter tooth than Logan’s — strives to have “something for everyone,” although there are some clear favorites. The staff at the shop have largely concluded that the Sour Rainbow Belts and Sour Patch Kids are the most appealing to kids, while adults seem to have a more refined taste, preferring dark chocolate. 

Apart from candy, the Sweet Shop also sells savory items, such as the “Croissantwich” (a croissant with eggs and melted cheese), or the “Egg White Skinny” (a croissant with egg whites, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto and spinach).

Most of the recipes for the savory meals are made by Sandra Colunga, the store’s manager, and taste-tested by employees. Colunga, apparently, tries to come up with healthier food options to counterbalance the sweetness. 

Harry Logan sits on the Sweet Shop patio. (Carly Heltzel)

As Logan — a Los Altos resident of 51 years, who has frequented the shop almost every day for the past 11 years — could tell you, the property has changed hands many times through the years (he nostalgically recounted the story of when his son tried to pay for a Tootsie Roll at Foodland with a $100 bill, only to later be busted for stealing it from his mom’s purse). 

But despite the Sweet Shop’s relatively recent history, Logan said that it’s definitively the best shop that has been there, and by far the one he has visited most frequently.

Sitting in the quaint parlor for a few hours every morning and striking up conversations with anyone who is willing to hear his war stories or talk about their own hopes and dreams, the loyal customer perfectly embodies the heartwarming atmosphere of this community-oriented and historical local business.

NEIGHBORHOOD-CENTERED

Twelve years ago, Stacy Savides Sullivan and her family bought the unusual property — which sits in the middle of a residential area — after it had been on the market for four years, and renovated it before opening the doors in August of 2009. With the hope that it would once again become an active part of the community, the Sweet Shop was born.

“[Sullivan] saw the opportunity and said ‘What if we buy this property, fix it up, and bring it back to give something back to the community,’” Colunga said. “And part of that was because when she was in high school, when there would be a special occasion, she and her friends would ride their bikes here and get one piece of candy. So there was some history for her personally as well.”

Since its beginning, the Sweet Shop has consistently retained its high school employees for around three to four years, some even staying through their years at community college. One such worker, Dania Zavala, an employee of three years, said that she has stuck around because “the hours are great and the people are great.” 

The Sweet Shop as viewed from Los Altos Ave. (Emily McNally)

“[The customers] are all regulars for the most part, so we know them by name, and they’re just really nice and they take the time to actually learn our names,” Zavala said. “Because of that, it’s just like a neighborhood.”

The friendly neighborhood aspect and close proximity to school make the Sweet Shop a local hotspot for elementary and middle schoolers, with mayhem ensuing when minimum days roll around. 

“It’s fun — super fun — but it’s non-stop for a couple of hours,” Colunga said. “[On] minimum days often kids can get sandwiches and candy and the whole thing. It’s just full of kids and bicycles and chaos.”

Normally, even when she stations someone at the door to mediate the number of people in the shop, it quickly becomes “jam-packed” with candy flying everywhere, Colunga said. 

PHILANTHROPY

With its largest demographic of customers being local students, the Sweet Shop decided to give back to the community by donating 5% of its yearly proceeds to local schools.

“We’re trying to support schools, basically where the customers are coming from,” Colunga said. “So Egan, Santa Rita, Gunn, Los Altos High School and Mountain View High School.”

Every year, Sullivan reaches out to the schools to find out what they might specifically need, and the Sweet Shop donates funds to fulfill that need.

One year, as the Egan photography teacher had been taking her students on field trips to the Sweet Shop to take artsy photos of the candy, Sullivan and Colunga decided to donate money to buy the kids better equipment.

“It’s a good thing for us and it’s fun for them, and [the teacher’s] been doing this for years,” Colunga said, describing the field trips. “So we gave them some funds because they are in need of better equipment for photography in general.” 

As a family-friendly establishment, the Sweet Shop is also home to a little library, a mailbox-type neighborhood book swap which Colunga bought a few years ago and continues to maintain. She said she loves seeing grandparents take out picture books to read to their grandkids on the Sweet Shop patio, or elementary schoolers swapping out their old novels for new ones.

“It’s the most self-maintained thing I’ve ever had because you don’t really do anything,” Colunga said. “Once in a while we clean the cobwebs and straighten the books, but you rely on the community; they come and bring you books.”

COVID-19 IMPACT

As it shut down during the first lockdown in March, the Sweet Shop management has had to change operation to follow county safety standards, particularly tricky given the nature of the candy shop.

Being unable to use the inside of the store led to the end of people being able to pick and choose what they wanted from different jars, a highlight for many customers but there have been some benefits.

“Probably one of the best things that came from COVID was the amount of money we’re saving on candy because when we have the kids and it’s a crazy Friday afternoon, candy is flying on the floor because everyone’s so excited,” Colunga said. “Now, there is no wastage.”

Instead, the Sweet Shop now offers pre-bagged candy packets, which Colunga says they’ll likely stick to for the foreseeable future. 

Even without its free-flying candy, the Sweet Shop has remained a unique and charming locale embedded in the community it serves throughout the pandemic.

And as more and more people come across this endearing establishment, the Sweet Shop’s loyal clientele continues to grow.

“You don’t have to live right down the street, you know we have people from across town, and other towns because they’ve discovered it,” Colunga said. “It’s become their special little spot.”

Monday, May 10: A previous version of this article had incorrectly stated the name and ingredients of the “Egg White Skinny,” and misspelled Dania Zavala’s name. The errors have been corrected.

Mountain View to pilot universal basic income program with surplus COVID-19 relief funds

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

The City of Mountain View is set to pilot a universal basic income program using $1 million of excess federal COVID-19 relief funds as part of a program proposed by Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga at the council’s April 27 meeting.

“We’ve been fortunate we haven’t faced the deficit that a lot of other cities have,” Abe-Koga said in an interview. “I thought this would be an opportunity to try and be innovative, and try something different.”

Through the American Rescue Plan — a $1.9 trillion stimulus act signed by President Biden in March — Mountain View is receiving $15 million over the next two years which leaves the city with $3 million in surplus with current budgetary projections. 

City staff previously asked the council to come up with suggestions for using these funds, Abe-Koga said, as the federal aid must be used by 2024.

Despite no plans being concrete, Abe-Koga said that a rough model of the program could be providing $500 per month to a set number of low-income individuals, likely chosen through a lottery system, for one to two years starting as early as this fall. The scale and details of the program are expected to develop in the next two months.

“I’ve always felt that the best way to help folks is to help them help themselves,” Abe-Koga said. “One of the concepts of UBI is to empower the individual to make choices to help them better their lives, so this idea of direct assistance was very appealing to me.”

The city council’s third quarter budget, which includes the UBI funding, will not be approved until its June 8 meeting; in the meantime, Abe-Koga said the council directed city staff to research the best approach to implement the program.

As the UBI discussion diverged from the April 27 meeting’s agenda and pre-distributed budget packet, the proposal has gone largely unnoticed so far, but Abe-Koga said the response from those who are aware of it –– including her fellow councilmembers –– has been only positive.

“Individuals who are aware of it, folks have been very positive,” Abe-Koga. “I haven’t actually heard any negative yet about it. I’m sure there will be.”

Last year, as mayor, Abe-Koga approved Mountain View’s COVID-19 rent relief program that provided direct financial assistance to low-income residents, but the money had a prescribed purpose rather than allowing recipients to use their discretion as UBI would; she said this gives her hope of community support for the UBI pilot as well.

A handful of nearby cities have implemented similar pilot programs including Oakland, Stockton, San Francisco and South San Francisco –– with all except the last being considerably larger than Mountain View. Abe-Koga said the idea of piloting a UBI program didn’t seem feasible until she heard about the recent program in South San Francisco.

And while figures as early as Martin Luther King Jr. have argued for guaranteed income as a way to uplift low-income individuals, Abe Koga said that she first seriously considered UBI while following Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign.

For technical assistance and help tracking the data of the pilot program to measure its success, the city has reached out to the national movement called Mayors for Guaranteed Income and Silicon Valley Community Foundation, respectively, anticipating that their prior experience will be of great help in the success of the program.

Noting the rarity of governments embracing novelty and saying that they tend to “wait for the stars to align,” Abe-Koga said she hopes there will be community interest and support to keep UBI programs going.

“In terms of [UBI] becoming permanent, yeah, hopefully,” Abe Koga said. “We need to see the results, but hopefully if there [are] positive results –– it sounds like and it looks like from these other cities that have done pilots that there are –– then we could be part of advocating for something nationwide.”

Mountain View expands local gun control

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

The Mountain View City Council last night unanimously approved a city ordinance prohibiting possession of any firearm on all city property, the council’s latest step toward increasing local gun control. 

The city’s previous gun laws banned possession of a firearm in city parks, in certain public buildings and meetings; loaded firearms in public; and carrying an exposed and unloaded handgun in public. 

This new ordinance will extend gun control across the board, which the council hopes will reduce the fear of gun violence or accidental endangerment among the public and city employees on city property.

To enforce the ordinance, police officers who observe violations will be permitted to use their discretion to either cite or arrest the individual, although they will not actively search for weapons on city property. Violations will be prosecuted as misdemeanors. 

Among many others during public comment during the April 13 council meeting when the ordinance was first presented, resident Tim MacKenzie commended the city for their efforts

“This is a way of taking action,” MacKenzie said. “And it is very good and inspiring to see action being taken.”

This action first started in September 2019, when city staff developed a list of potential gun control measures that the city council could consider adopting, including prohibiting firearms sales as a home occupation, implementing locational restrictions on firearms dealers, requiring safe storage of firearms and prohibiting possession of firearms on city property. 

The council, as seen last night, ultimately chose to move forward with the last option.

The safe storage requirements for firearms received praise during council discussion and public comment alike at the April 13 meeting, making it a potential next step forward for continued expansion of gun laws.

Public commenter Rachel Michelson described the safe storage laws in the cities of Saratoga and Sunnyvale as models to follow in the coming years, calling it the “next brave step” toward protecting people from firearm fatalities and injuries.

Many others voiced their support in an overwhelmingly positive wave of feedback.

“While many city ordinances can be quite dry, I found myself actually being moved by several parts of this one,” resident Don Veith said, going on to acknowledge several words that stood out to him during the presentation. “Unacceptable is the right word because we just have to stop accepting [gun violence]. I thank Mountain View for recognizing that this is an obligation.”

Mountain View Council solidifies Public Safety Advisory Board appointments

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

The Mountain View City Council tonight appointed seven individuals to the newly formed Public Safety Advisory Board, a group of Mountain View residents who will advise the city council on public safety matters — specifically the police department.

The council appointed residents Cleave Frink, Derek Langton, Joan Brodovsky and Kavita Aiyar to four-year full terms. Eva Tang, Jeannette Wang and Kalwant Sandhu were appointed to two-year half terms.

Last year, the city council created the Ad-Hoc Subcommittee on Race, Equity and Inclusion dedicated to guiding the city’s efforts toward achieving its vision of racial justice in June of 2020 — “ad-hoc” meaning the committee only stood for a limited term, unlike a standing subcommittee which continues indefinitely.

The advisory board serves as a more permanent solution to police reform, although it serves in a purely advisory capacity; the city council may choose to toss any of its recommendations.

In the coming months, the advisory board — which serves as a liaison between the community and police department — will primarily focus on community outreach and serve as a forum for public discussion before presenting any recommendations to the city council. 

“I’m here as a mediator to take the raw emotion and anger from the community which you have heard over and over in public comment,” Tang, one of the appointed individuals said in her council interview in March. “And take that and do the dirty work of digging in and actually turning it into something tangible for the community.”

Hundreds gather for youth-led Mountain View AAPI rally

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTOS BY TOMOKI CHIEN

Hundreds of protesters marched through downtown Mountain View today in support of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in a local show of solidarity amidst rising anti-Asian hate crimes nationwide.

The effort was largely organized by three youth chairs: Castilleja School senior Amanda Khu, Mountain View High School senior Daisy Kemp and Lynbrook High School sophomore Jason Shan.

“Our focus is to spread cultural awareness of the presence and long-standing racism against AAPI people in this area and also to combat, to spread activism and to protest the recent events that have been happening,” Kemp said in an interview prior to the rally. “Really trying to get the point across that AAPI racism has been here since Mountain View was formed.”

Less than a hundred years ago, in the very spot where protesters gathered today to rally against Asian American hate, Japanese Americans were processed at what is now the Mountain View Caltrain station and shipped off to internment camps in an effort to forcibly remove them from the Bay Area during WWII. 

In 1862, supporters of the Anti-Coolie Act, which aimed to “protect” white people from job competition with Chinese immigrants by becoming the first immigration legislation in the U.S. to target a specific ethnic group, marched down the same streets as the protesters did today.

During the march through downtown Mountain View, one of the protesters, Ping L., who requested her last name not be used, shouted out chants such as “Stop Asian hate, stop all hate” and “no more violence, no more silence” as she and her family marched down Castro street in the stream of protesters. The crowd around her echoed her cheers and outdoor diners clapped and whistled as the protesters marched by. 

“Initially we were just here to join the rally, but it was too quiet,” she said. “We need to let people know what we stand for, so I wanted to make our voices heard.”

As she caught her breath from shouting slogans, she added that to her, the rally was a place to let out all of the anger and frustration that many Asians feel, unite as one community and be a role model to her son.

“I have my boy standing behind me, I have to set the example of fighting justice and fairness,” Ping said. “I feel like it is ridiculous that this is happening in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, that we have to request our basic right to safety.”

Like many other speakers, she shared the fear that she or someone she knows could be the next victim of AAPI violence. In fact, all of the youngest speakers, who were eight to 10 year olds, expressed their constant fear of going outside.

“I am scared and sad about the cycle of hatred,” 10-year-old Ray H. said. “No one wants to be the next victim.”

“I was always told I was a happy sunshine kid, but not anymore,” 8-year-old Michael P. said. “Children should not be afraid to go outside.”

The rally had a large emphasis on youth leadership and participation, with both Ray and Michael among several students from ages eight to 18 standing in front of the crowd and sharing their perspectives.

The rally began at 2:30 p.m. when protesters gathered at the Mountain View Transit Center to make signs before beginning the march to the city hall at 3 p.m. Many signs read “#StopAAPIHate,” “Racism is a virus, unity is the cure,” “I am home” and “Not your model minority.” 

Once protesters arrived at city hall and were greeted by Taiko drummers, a host of elected officials including Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei, Police Chief Chris Hsuing, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, state senators and assembly members along with many members of several local city councils and school boards gave short speeches in support of the AAPI community.

Despite its impressive lineup, Kemp said that the planning process only began about a week prior to holding the rally and that the committee pulled it off by immersing themselves in the planning. 

Working with Kamei, among many others, the youth chairs signed up all of the speakers, the musical performance from San Jose’s youth singing group Able to Shine and a few informational tables that were aimed at increasing the interactivity of the rally.

Kamei — whose father was born in the Heart Mountain Japanese internment camp and whose mother is Chinese-Puerto Rican — said that as someone who always had to check the “other” box when it came to identifying her race, to her, today’s rally was about coming together, sharing experiences, and showing solidarity as a community.

“There isn’t just one Asian American experience,” Kamei said in an interview prior to the rally. “So I think today will really be key in trying to understand the wide ranging perspectives that people have on this topic and how it affects them and I hope people can hear about how we can all be better allies for each other.”

As the youngest of the youth chairs and someone who has not experienced overt acts of racism, Shan said that he was at first unsure what he could contribute to the rally, but soon realized that not everyone in the crowd would have had these experiences either. 

“We are here because our community was attacked,” Shan said. “You as youth have a voice and there are people who will stand behind you.”

MV council moves one step closer to formation of Public Safety Advisory Board

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

The Mountain View City Council recommended the appointment of seven civilian community members to the Public Safety Advisory Board during its March 16 study session, the latest development in the city’s effort to streamline police reform. The recommended appointees will be confirmed in a final vote during the council’s April 13 meeting. 

The council’s recommendations include Mountain View residents Cleave Frink, Derek Langton, Joan Brodovsky and Kavita Aiyar for four-year full terms. Eva Tang, Jeannette Wang and Kalwant Sandhu were recommended two-year half terms.

Before voting, council members each gave a brief overview of their personal criteria for candidates, all of which were largely based on the criteria outlined in the study session’s memo. 

“What I was looking for was a broad representation of different neighborhoods, ethnic groups and stakeholders,” Vice Mayor Lucas Ramirez said. “It’s unfortunate that we don’t have Latinx candidates, but I’m hoping in the future when people see the good work they are able to do there will be more interest.”

Similarly expressing her concerns about a lack of Latino representation, full-term appointee Joan Brodovsky said that her relationships with individuals in Mountain View’s Latino community could help the advisory board gather this missing perspective in the future. 

Still, the applicant pool featured a diverse group of candidates as Ramirez had hoped, with backgrounds ranging from an ex–police officer and a high schooler to a chemist and a neighborhood association leader.

During the study session, Mayor Ellen Kamei facilitated the interviews by asking each candidate what makes them unique, which of the recent policing discussions they have attended, what they think the role of the advisory board is and how they think it will make an impact on the relationship between the police department and community members.

The council listened to the responses and after hearing from all 13 applicants, each council member had seven votes to give to candidates.

As one of the two candidates who received a vote from every council member, Cleave Frink discussed how his unique perspective comes from both being a Black man and watching his father run an earlier version of a civilian advisory board in the 1970s. 

“It’s important to make sure that the body doesn’t become a complaint board,” Frink said. “It has to be a deliberative body to figure out how to help the police department and the city serve its community in the way that they want to be served.”

The other of the two unanimous appointments, Kavita Aiyar, said she has already been working on reform with the police chief, including piloting discussions with the public and focus groups. During her interview with the council, Aiyar described the board as a “bridge” between community concerns and the police department.

Among these concerns is the police response to mental health–related issues, with which Eva Tang described her first-hand experiences. Before her father’s passing in January due to COVID-19, he was afflicted with mental illness and Tang said she saw the often-negative impact of police presence during his crises.

“He had a lot of crises before he was diagnosed that were handled by police, and as his daughter, it was a very scary and vulnerable time,” she said. “I wonder how that could’ve been handled better.”

Tang said she is grounded in equity as a teacher in East Palo Alto who has watched the effects of the school-to-prison pipeline, and decided to see through her commitment to police reform by applying for the advisory board after advocating for its formation in the first place.

“I’m here as a mediator to take the raw emotion and anger from the community which you have heard over and over in public comment,” Tang said. “And take that and do the dirty work of digging in and actually turning it into something tangible for the community.”

Echoing this sentiment, Kamei said she hopes people feel included in directing discussions made possible by the PSAB’s future outreach.

“I find it a point of hope,” Kamei said. “This is an opportunity for us to build that community trust.”

Graduation in the pandemic: three potential plans from the MVLA district

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

The iconic graduation song “Pomp and Circumstance” blares through the speakers as the senior class files onto the campus bleachers together, preparing to walk across the stage in front of the sea of their families’ faces. 

Oh wait no, never mind. 

Los Altos High School Assistant Principal Suzanne Woolfolk and Mountain View High School Assistant Principal Jon Robell last night detailed the logistical components of potential graduation plans — modified, given the raging global pandemic — also sharing the results from a survey of over 700 seniors district-wide and comments from various senior class meetings at both schools.

Results show that the priorities of the senior class are safely graduating together with their classmates; allowing spectators to view the ceremony; being able to uphold tradition and graduate on campus; and being able to symbolically walk across a stage.

Although there were three different options for an in-person graduation presented at tonight’s Mountain View–Los Altos School Board meeting, none of them check all of those boxes. 

Here is a breakdown of the options the district is considering:

PLAN A: SENIORS IN ONE CEREMONY WITH REMOTE SPECTATORS

In the first plan discussed, the entire senior class would graduate on campus in the same ceremony, with the slight possibility that they would be able to walk across the stage. But in order to space out students enough to comply with physical distancing rules, no spectators would be invited to watch in-person.

Instead, the district would hire a videographer to follow along the rows of students in spaced out chairs on the turf field, capturing each graduate standing up to be recognized as their names are called. 

The video would be broadcast live for families and spectators to watch either remotely or for seniors’ support “pods” to watch on a large movie screen as they are spaced out on the adjacent field; the logistical feasibility of having families on the field next to the one where graduates is still being examined by the district.

For students who wish to opt out of the in-person ceremony, their name and photo would be edited into the video recording.

Despite the student survey results indicating that most students care more about graduating with the whole class present than accommodating spectators, a few parents of seniors spoke out against this option during public comment of last night’s board meeting, due to a lack of parent input being considered.

“There seems to be a lack of ability for parents to weigh in on the graduation,” MVLA parent David Clark Hinz said. “As someone who had a graduate last year, I’m thinking about how the graduation is going to come off, as the family is a very important part of the graduation.” 

“As parents, I think it’s meaningful for us to be there,” MVLA parent Shiera Ariel added.

Woolfolk said she hopes to send out a widespread survey to parents as well as potentially hold a Zoom call or webinar to receive and discuss feedback from parents in the next month or so.

PLAN B: TWO MINI CEREMONIES WITH IN-PERSON SPECTATORS

In the second option presented, about half of the senior class — around 250–275 students — would graduate at a time, with two to three ceremonies being held on campus throughout the day; the larger Los Altos bleachers could accommodate enough students per ceremony to only hold two, whereas Mountain View would likely have to hold three.

Every senior would be given the same number of graduation tickets, likely four, and those spectators would sit in designated pods on the turf field to watch students stand up in the bleachers when their name is called. 

Seniors would be seated on the home-side bleachers as spaced out as they can be, which Woolfolk said is only 4 feet apart. Although there are no indications that federal, state or county guidelines will loosen to only require 4-foot physical distancing by June 4, Woolfolk said that this plan was made with that assumption.

This model also includes broadcasting a live stream of the graduation ceremony for those who are unable to safely attend.

Concerns surrounding this plan, as expressed by seniors in the survey, include losing the authenticity of traditions and speeches by having to repeat everything, fears around the rushed setup and changes between ceremonies — such as potential issues of sanitization — and not being together as a whole class.

“I selected to have graduation with as many seniors as possible and no audience … I just want to be with my friends, but it would be nice to have my family there too,” an anonymous senior wrote in the survey.

PLAN C: SINGLE CEREMONY WITH SPECTATORS, OFF-SITE

The last option, which was brought up as a possibility during the recent discussions with seniors, was to hold an off-campus ceremony at an outdoor venue large enough to have seniors and spectators spaced out safely. 

Woolfolk said they currently have a non-binding hold on the Earthquake’s Stadium, the same location as last year’s drive-in graduation ceremony video, but this time it would reserve the whole field and stands, allowing the schools the space they need to bring everyone together by spreading them apart.

She added that the owners offered to lend out the stadium itself for free, meaning the district would only have to pay for the necessary staff to operate the venue — she described it as a “very generous” deal. 

Other venues mentioned include Levi’s Stadium, which would cost at least twice as much as Earthquake’s, and Shoreline Amphitheatre, which may not have enough room and is also considerably more expensive.

The district’s non-binding hold on the Earthquake’s Stadium for June 4 will come up in two weeks, so decisions regarding Plan C must be made quickly. 

But this seeming compromise of having all graduates and spectators together may have its own pitfalls.

“There’s a lot of sentiment of ‘we love having graduation on campus,’ there’s a lot of love for Plans A and B because of that campus aspect,” Woolfolk said.

She added that one of the major concerns is whether or not being off-site would take away from the seniors’ graduation experience, a question likely to be asked in another future survey.

FEEDBACK AND NEXT STEPS

The survey of Mountain View High School students found that 75% of the 362 students who responded were in favor of a ceremony held at an off-site space large enough to hold all graduates and spectators; Los Altos High School conducted a similar survey but did not ask about off-campus options.

Slightly lower, 70% of those seniors said they were in favor of a distanced ceremony on the campus field without specifying whether or not spectators were present, and, significantly lower, only 26% were in favor of conducting three mini-ceremonies throughout the day to ensure safety. 

In the Los Altos survey of 411 seniors, 54.5% of students said that having as many seniors graduate together as possible with virtual spectators was more important to them than having a small number of family and friends and dividing it up into mini-ceremonies. 

Graduation plans will be finalized in the next month or so, with opportunities for more senior, parent and community input in the meantime; Robell said the next senior cabinet meeting in which this will be discussed is on April 7.

“We thank you for using student input so heavily,” senior and Mountain View School Board Representative Erin Coyne said.

While trying to preserve as much of the tradition and community as possible, with coronavirus restrictions still in place and an uncertain future, Woolfolk and Robell remained cautiously optimistic for lifted restrictions in June.

The limits of COVID-19 safety and inability to make everyone happy puts extra pressure on their decision, but looking forward, Woolfolk, Robell, and the team of people working to cement ceremony plans are currently focused on one thing.

“What both admin teams have agreed that we want is for both comprehensive high schools to agree on only one of the plans district-wide, with options clearly lined up for seniors,” Woolfolk said.

And through the ups and downs of planning the end goal has always been to provide as much of a traditional ceremony as possible: caps, gowns, diplomas and all.

“I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it,” Robell said.

Meet Alex Brown, quasi-famous MV activist and ‘Official Guy Who Does Stuff Sometimes I Guess’

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

Community activist Alex Brown’s official, voted-on title and email signature is the “Official Guy Who Does Stuff Sometimes I Guess,” but it should probably be changed to be “Official Guy Who Does Stuff All the Time.”

An involved political activist, the Mountain View resident is a part of numerous community organizations advocating for everything from mobile home rent control to environmental sustainability and social justice. 

His lengthy resume includes working with the Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance, Santiago Neighborhood Association, Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition, Silicon Valley Democratic Socialists of America, Mountain View Tenants Coalition, Mountain View YIMBY, Mountain View Coalition for Police Reform and Accountability, Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, Balanced Mountain View and Alphabet Workers Union.

“I’m sure that there are other ones that I forgot that just slipped my mind,” Brown said. “Yeah, there are probably others.”

Estimating that he attends an average of eight to nine meetings per week, Brown, pictured above with neighbor and MV Mobile Home Alliance administrator Bee Hanson, said he juggles simultaneous video calls on multiple computers by reading live transcripts on one and listening to the other — and that’s just for his various advocacy groups and city council meetings.

He laughed that he is able to keep up with such a packed Zoom schedule by having “no free time.”

“Gotta dedicate a lot of time to it,” Brown said. “And that’s how most of [the organizations] work. It’s just the people who are able to spend the time to show up to things, that’s what counts.”

Surprisingly, Brown said he is not a fan of having responsibilities or obligations despite taking it upon himself to make change in his community.

“I know I do a lot, but I don’t want people to expect it,” Brown said. “It’s fun if they’re just surprised.”

His consistent appearances and punchy remarks at city meetings have made Brown somewhat famous in local politics. 

One of his moments to shine was during a City Council meeting last December in response to the number of street signs necessary to enforce Measure C.

“There’s nothing more attractive than signposts with giant letters on them,” Brown said sarcastically during the meeting. “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.” 

But as memorable as his comments are, Brown said he is not one for planning and usually comes up with his lines on the fly, jotting down what he wants to say on a piece of paper after listening to other people’s comments and council presentations.

“I try to keep my comments short because I want them to be something worth hearing,” he said.

Saying that he hopes people he encounters will remember him, Brown expressed his disappointment when one of the Rental Housing Committee officials allegedly pretended to not know him and asked what his name was, even though he had been at every meeting. 

“I was like, ‘Vanessa! Gah!’ … Come on,” Brown said. 

Other than “Vanessa,” most city officials remember his name.

“Yeah, they all know me,” he said. “I’ve talked to each of them one on one multiple times. And some of them I chat with regularly because they’re people who want to get involved, want to do stuff and usually have strong opinions, and sadly I know what that’s like.”

When asked why it was “sad” that he has strong opinions, he said “it’s gotta be easier otherwise, right?” 

Growing up in a conservative household in Paradise Valley, Ariz., Brown said he was always “politically aware on different levels.” But this interest didn’t translate into his current activism until he moved to Mountain View. 

In 2015, the mobile home park Brown lived in saw rent prices skyrocket from around $900–$1,000 to $2,000 over the course of a couple of months. Brown, who by day is a software engineer at Google, has never been personally affected by the gentrification in the region, but his neighbors and friends were.

There was the couple near the front of the park with a pet bird, the rental right next to his that turned over owners three times in seven years, the guy in the beret who would walk around the park smoking a cigar.

“What was his name? Gary?” he said. “Nice guy — fragrant. … I know a lot of people that have moved on.”

Costs were so high, according to Brown, that many of the residents who were priced out of the park weren’t able to find buyers who could afford it, and the park’s flyers stopped listing the prices since they were no longer a selling point.

Brown became increasingly active in local politics since then, and by 2017, he was attending every city council meeting. 

“There’s a shuttle that would take me from work to Castro and El Camino [where city hall is],” Brown said. “And so I timed it right where I’d be able to grab a mint tea from the corner and then just walk over.”

Despite his prolific appearances at those council meetings, Brown doesn’t think that public comment should entirely dictate the council’s actions. If council were to respond fully to each of these comments, he said, it would “ping pong back and forth between very vocal opinions about how things should operate.”

“It is strong stances, it’s emotion, it is something to be considered,” Brown said. “But, I mean, that’s not legislation. That’s not how actual things [work] and I’ve never seen them work.”

And while he has clashed with council on numerous issues, Brown thinks they’re doing the best they can. The “default mode” in which council members don’t immediately take action, he said, makes sense so long as they are considering and learning from what they hear.

“Everyone’s just … trying to do something that they think is how they should be operating at any given moment,” he said. “It’s not always in alignment with the other people, but they’re trying. Most of the time, at least you think — you hope.”

Brown recently applied to be appointed to two groups: the Rental Housing Committee, which enforces rent laws, and the Public Safety Advisory Board, which will advise council on matters like policing.

His chances of being appointed are slim, Brown said, but “I’m gonna act like I have a shot because I think that’s the only reasonable way to act.”

“It would be fascinating if they tried to appoint me to both — just like the whole smoke the pack strategy,” he added. “They’re gonna cure me of my activism.”

Either way, Brown isn’t planning on stepping back from politics anytime soon. Next up: pushing through rent protection for mobile home residents just like him.