Hope’s Corner is hosting its annual 5K event virtually this month, unshaken in its battle against homelessness and economic inequality despite the pandemic’s restrictions.
The fundraiser centers around a theme of fives: Alongside the 5K itself, participants are asked to donate $5 and recruit five other people to join, hence the name “Five by Five by Five for Hope.”
The event aims at fundraising for the Mountain View–based nonprofit’s key initiatives, which include providing meals, showers and other basic necessities to the community’s homeless and low-income populations — demographics that have grown since the pandemic began.
Participants are able to complete the 5K through any mode of exercise, including running, skateboarding and even kayaking, later reporting their participation on the Five by Five by Five website. Creativity is certainly encouraged: In last year’s event, one set of participants ran a trail spelling hope, while another rollerbladed backward.
“It’s just a fun kind of thing, and the idea is to recruit other people to do it with you so it becomes kind of a group effort and hopefully takes off and expands from there,” Hope’s Corner Board Member Mike Hacker said.
Last year’s 5K was also virtual, but turnout was less than the group had hoped at around 100 participants, Hacker said. The organizers hope that the extra year of experience and more participation in the event will help them surpass the $10,000–$12,000 that they raised last year, he added.
Run almost entirely by volunteers, Hope’s Corner is able to funnel the vast majority of funds directly into its core programs.
“Virtually all the money goes towards food items, supplies, bicycles, other items like clothing and the like,” said Phil Marcoux, a member of the Hope’s Corner board and a participant in previous events.
But money isn’t the only motivator behind the event. The Five by Five by Five is also part of Hope’s Corner’s effort to build a sense of community for those who have lost their homes. Hacker said the organization hopes to bring together all parts of the community through encouraging an appearance from the Mountain View mayor at last year’s event and having new collaborations with fire and police departments, as well as myriad local businesses.
Before the move online, Hope’s Corner’s 5K began as the Tour de Hope, named after the famed Tour de France. Participants met at the YMCA and competed on stationary bikes, and the event saw high levels of participation.
Following reduced risks of transmitting COVID-19 and laxened restrictions, Hope’s Corner has gradually begun reopening some of the programs it was forced to put on pause, including its showers. But while things have yet to completely return to normalcy, Hope’s Corner is continuing to use events like the 5K to bring awareness and resources to its cause.
“Just the fact that they are doing something healthy is great,” Marcoux said of participants. “And the fact that they’re doing something good for local people in our society, I think, just adds to the rewards. And the excitement as well, you know, it gives them an extra boost of endorphins in what they’re doing.”
Entries for the 5K close on July 5. Register before then at The 5K website.
Tuesday, June 22: This article was updated to more accurately reflect the details of the 5K.
Linden Tree Children’s Books has transported children to a world of storytelling for generations, almost becoming a bona fide rite of passage in Los Altos. But few remember its origins as a record store 40 years ago.
Founded by Dennis and Linda Ronberg in 1981, Linden Tree fulfilled their vision of a children’s music store, operating out of their home in Seattle. When the couple moved back to Ms. Ronberg’s hometown, Los Altos, they decided to take the next step and open a storefront on State St.
Now, a new location and two sets of owners later, the records are gone from the shelves, but the store has maintained its original vision as a resource for Los Altos families.
Most Los Altos children grow up browsing the shelves of Linden Tree for new books or sitting in its large, cozy chairs and reading for hours. But the community that Linden Tree has created around a love for sharing stories stretches beyond the borders of its home city.
“People from 20 or 30 miles away will come to our store because that’s the only resource,” Mr. Ronberg said.
Linden Tree has seen generations of children grow up — some have even returned to become employees, said Lisa Blanchette, who has worked at the store since the Ronbergs first opened shop. It’s a testament to the dedication that Linden Tree has inspired in its community, extending beyond just a place to buy books.
Part of the Linden Tree experience, customers and employees said, is having conversations with employees who can tailor suggestions individually.
And these recommendations have become friendships too, said Linda Parish, who has been taking her daughter to Linden Tree “since she was chewing on books.” Over her years of visiting the bookstore, Parish said she has gotten to know several of the employees, even texting some on a regular basis.
“I think [the kids] just adore knowing someone in the store, who knows their name and knows their interests and can make recommendations for books,” she said.
“I think that’s really what sets a store like Linden Tree apart, … not just from other bookstores and other retail stores, but it also sets us apart from online shopping,” Saccheri said. “I’ll confess I’ve used Amazon for 20 years and the recommendations are just as bad now as they were 20 years ago.”
These interactions aren’t just limited to shopping, either. Part of what has kept customers coming back to Linden Tree time and again has been the events — from movie nights to author visits to writing workshops — that the store regularly hosts.
IMPORTANCE OF BOOKS
Almost three decades after Linden Tree began planting roots in the Los Altos community, the Ronbergs made the decision to move on in 2009 because of Mr. Ronberg’s illness, and sold the store.
The future of Linden Tree was thrown into flux, however, when it went up for sale again in 2019, but found few bidders. Fortunately for the store, former LinkedIn employee and local parent Chris Saccheri and his wife Anne, who visited frequently with their daughter, weren’t quite ready to let one of the last independent bookstores left in the Bay Area die out, Saccheri said.
“I feel like everybody has a moment [where] you hear that something you love like a business is in trouble and you’re like, ‘What if I got together some friends and we bought that,’ but nobody ever does it,” he said.
Determined to break that trend, Saccheri reached out to his former LinkedIn coworker Flo Grosskurth, and together they purchased Linden Tree, stepping from tech industry into literature.
“I think our first goal primarily was just keep it in business and prove to ourselves — and to the world around us — that a small, independent bookstore can still be profitable and can survive in the age of Amazon and online shopping,” Saccheri said.
Their vision, Saccheri said, is to get children excited about reading and revive Linden Tree’s community through its events.
“The community is kind of depending on you to carry this thing forward … and you want to live up to that standard [the previous owners set] for great service and a fantastic, welcoming environment for kids to come in and get excited about books and reading,” Saccheri said. “It was definitely scary — it’s still kind of scary — but I think the best things are a little bit scary, right? That’s where the fun is.”
It’s been a difficult undertaking as a children’s bookstore, which Saccheri described as a “niche within niche,” but it’s also helped keep business alive for Linden Tree by attracting customers from faraway cities.
Shopping for books in person — or perhaps just hanging around the store — is an irreplaceable experience, defying increased accessibility to digital books, Blanchette said.
“A lot of children … are growing up with so much screen exposure, and a book is a way to not encourage so much time in front of a screen,” Ms. Ronberg said. “When ebooks started to happen, the demise of the physical book was predicted. And it’s just not the same, holding a book, the way a book smells, the turning the page yourself.”
By early 2020, Grosskurth and Saccheri had finally started learning the ropes of the store, and in around March, they hosted their first Linden Tree book fair. A raging success, it left the two optimistic about Linden Tree’s future in the community, Saccheri said.
Then they were struck by COVID-19.
“I remember very distinctly driving home from that book fair and being like, ‘I think we’re finally getting it. Like, things are starting to click,’” Saccheri said. “I was so optimistic on that drive home, and then a week later we had to close the doors completely.”
The pandemic dealt a heavy blow to the bookstore, which had only dabbled in the online retail market. Despite having an online inventory and purchasing system, Linden Tree only attracted a couple online orders a month, at most.
Fortunately for the store, its loyal customer base transitioned to online shopping as quickly as Linden Tree closed its doors, and online orders skyrocketed. But without any robust infrastructure to handle the orders, Grosskurth and Saccheri took a traditional approach: doing things by hand.
With each drop-off, employees would load up their trunks with up to a dozen bags of books and drive them to customers’ houses. Saccheri said that for him, it became an opportunity to get to know new parts of the community that loved Linden Tree so dearly.
“Los Altos is sneakily big,” he remarked with a laugh.
Purely online operations remained in effect for three months, until easing restrictions allowed gradual steps back to normalcy. Recently, Linden Tree has been able to start hosting the book readings and other events that have made it so beloved by children in Los Altos.
“It was fantastic, being able to see the kids get excited and react to those readings, and it was really fun for the authors too,” Saccheri said. “It was [a couple of the authors’] first times actually getting to read their books face to face with children, seeing their reactions as they read. And that’s what it’s all about.”
These in-person events put on by Chris and Flo are carrying on founders Dennis and Linda’s original vision for the store as a community-building resource for Los Altos families.
“They’re young and enthusiastic, and they’ve done an amazing job keeping it going and really making it a wonderful store again,” Ms. Ronberg said.
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.
“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.
New national guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today recommends that Santa Clara County schools open for full in-person instruction, although state restrictions would prohibit that from happening until hitting the red tier of coronavirus transmission.
The centerpiece of the CDC’s guidance is a colored tier system — which is separate from California’s criteria — that provides recommendations for school reopenings according to cases rates in the surrounding community.
At the moment, Santa Clara County sits in the yellow tier of the CDC’s system with 21.7 new cases per day for every 100,000 in the population as well as a 4% test positivity rate.
The CDC recommends that schools in both the yellow and blue tiers open for full in-person instruction alongside sports and extracurricular activities; notably, guidance in those tiers suggests 6-foot social distancing “to the greatest extent possible,” as opposed to the “required” social distancing of the orange and red tiers.
In all returns, the CDC recommends prioritizing in-person learning over extracurricular activities, including sports, citing social, emotional and mental health impacts.
The sky was overcast above the corner of Hope and Mercy streets in Mountain View on Jan. 27. Guests were expected to start arriving at any minute, but the volunteers were sure that they would be drenched by the forecasted heavy rain.
Still, the Hope’s Corner volunteers wouldn’t let the weather ruin a day for celebration, hanging up balloons and banners to lighten up the gloomy atmosphere. To their surprise, the rain held off as they reached a new milestone: the 100,000th free meal provided by Hope’s Corner.
The guests lined up as usual to pick up their meals — most didn’t know that it was a special occasion — but the volunteers were eagerly counting down. Only around 20 people in, they hit 100,000. The recipient was awarded a $25 gift card, and, beaming, he posed for a photo.
Hope’s Corner, a nonprofit organization based in downtown Mountain View, has served free, nutritious meals to the public since 2011. In its early years, Hope’s Corner served just a few dozen guests in a small social hall. Today, it provides meals and resources to more than 700 individuals.
“I think everybody’s just really proud and kind of amazed,” said Mike Hacker, a board member of Hope’s Corner. “It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that we hit … 50,000 and then 75,000.”
But it wasn’t impossible to predict either. Hope’s Corner hasn’t missed a single Saturday — the day they usually serve their meals — since they started in 2011, including on Christmas and other holidays.
That isn’t just some token achievement; Hope’s Corner has really impacted people’s lives. One of those folks is a former student at De Anza College, who requested to stay anonymous for privacy concerns. As an unhoused student, she lost access to a power source to charge her laptop when the pandemic hit.
With her studies halted in the middle of the spring quarter, she needed to find another solution. She went around, explaining her situation to school administrators and governmental organizations. They were empathetic but, frustratingly, offered no feasible solution.
Then someone from the Community Services Agency in Mountain View recommended reaching out to Hope’s Corner. Despite not having an existing program to meet her needs, the volunteer she spoke with listened to her situation and promised to try and help. A couple days later, they called her back and said they had a power bank she could use.
“It’s like you were sinking and someone tossed you a life jacket,” she said. “The name ‘Hope’s Corner’ is really fitting.”
With the power bank and support from Hope’s Corner, she was able to finish the quarter at De Anza College.
“You can tell that [the volunteers] care, and they listen, and they want to do something about it,” she said. “It’s one of those life experiences that you treasure and never forget.”
“It’s volunteer work that leaves you feeling good about what you’re doing and allows you to relate to people, maybe look at people differently,” Hacker said. “You recognize that you have a lot more in common with other people than you might realize or want to acknowledge.”
Hacker and other volunteers’ commitment has remained unfazed even through COVID-19, ensuring that Hope’s Corner could continue to provide its usual free meals; in fact, noticing the rise in food insecurity, the organization has only increased its reach, serving three times as many meals since the pandemic started. And in addition to serving the weekly Saturday and Wednesday meals at the usual Mountain View location, Hope’s Corner has even expanded its meal delivery offsite for the first time, serving mobile home residents and the Day Worker Center.
Hope’s Corner’s numerous volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization’s rapid growth. Before the pandemic, over 600 individuals came to volunteer at Hope’s Corner each year. But now, to minimize the risk of spreading disease, its operations have been reduced to two core groups that switch off every Saturday.
Still, community members are finding other ways to stay involved. Meals are now packed in paper bags in a “grab and go” style so people can stay in their cars to pick up meals; several volunteer groups have come in to decorate these paper bags with artwork and words of encouragement — plus the occasional food pun. Something this small can bring a lot of joy to people, Hacker said. One woman even started to frame some of the decorated bags she received.
“They don’t have to be creative enough to be good artists,” Hacker continued. “Just anything like that makes a big difference.”
Despite all of Hope’s Corner’s recent success, though, some services have been put on pause due to COVID-19 restrictions. Notably, the pandemic has put a stopper on Hope’s Corner’s laundry and shower services. With it being one of the only places offering these services for free — and one of the cleanest — they’ve been particularly missed by frequenters, Hacker said.
Less tangibly, but equally as important, pre-pandemic Hope’s Corner had formed its own niche community. Old-timers would come together every week like clockwork, sharing meals with friends or even piecing together jigsaw puzzles. Now, with social distancing protocols in place, these weekly get-togethers have become impossible.
But even without the option to have those same sit-downs, the Hope’s Corner community is staying resilient, gathering in a scattered arrangement of chairs in the parking lot. Socially distanced and when it’s not raining, of course.
“During COVID, I even heard someone [say], ‘Hey, I haven’t seen Joe for a while; anyone seen Joe?’” Hacker said. “They kind of look out for each other and … have each other’s backs, … so it’d be great when we can reopen up sitdown meals again where people can hang out on chit-chat.”
In the meantime, Hope’s Corner will keep on bringing smiles to people’s faces, one meal at a time.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.”
STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN AND ALLISON HUANG, PHOTO BY GIL RUBINSTEIN
The Mountain View City Council voted unanimously last night to implement a “Public Safety Advisory Board” (PSAB) to oversee the Police Department, following a recommendation from the Ad-Hoc Subcommittee meeting on Race, Equity and Inclusion (REI).
The PSAB will be made up of up to seven members, each appointed by the Council, tasked with analyzing police data and facilitating conversations with the public, then making recommendations to reform the Department. Like other advisory bodies, the PSAB will solely provide recommendations to the Council, which will ultimately have to vote in any changes.
During public comment, over a dozen community members rebuked the recommendation; most called for a short-term body with a clearer mandate, citing the Los Altos Citizens’ Police Task Force as a successful example after Los Altos City Council approved its recommendation to remove student resource officers (SROs) from campuses.
Mountain View High School student Elizabeth Greene, who worked with the Los Altos task force, extolled its success while criticizing the PSAB’s lack of policy-making power.
“We got to sit on the call and sob with relief and joy,” she said of Los Altos City Council’s decision. “And yet we come to Mountain View, and we get to go back to these high schoolers and tell them, ‘Oh, by the way, Mountain View City Council, they’re not doing anything. They don’t care.’ Create something with a spine.”
Council Member Lucas Ramirez voiced support for a longer-term body over a short-term task force, saying that the issues that needed to be resolved exceed the scope of a task force’s abilities.
“This is a conversation that will take a long time to fully evaluate and digest, and it’s not something that I think we can do in a short period of time,” he said. “Another thing that has come up is that the body has a vague and undefined mission, and I don’t agree with that. It’s pretty clear the scope of work that we’re talking about. As with any other advisory body, the body itself should determine its work plan.”
Ramirez added that although the Los Altos Police Task Force’s recommendation was adopted, it still had to go through Council approval and had the same lack of authority that community members criticized the PSAB for.
Other council members, many speaking of their own experiences on advisory bodies, echoed Ramirez’s opinions, several citing the Council’s history of following staff recommendations.
“When you say that this body that we’re going to make is powerless, you do not know how Mountain View works,” Council Member John McAlister said. “So make sure that when you’re coming down on us, you know the whole story of what we’re trying to do.”
Council members Lisa Matichak and Alison Hicks expressed interest in exploring a short-term body, but ultimately supported the recommendation after seeing a lack of support from the rest of the Council.
Several members of the public also expressed disappointment and frustration at the Council’s handling of police reform, particularly in receiving reports from the Human Relations Committee (HRC), which has collected qualitative stories about community interactions with the police since August.
Prior to the vote last night, the HRC gave an abridged presentation on its findings, which numerous members of the public found to be an inadequate exploration of the data. Vice Mayor Ellen Kamei, however, responded by saying that there were multiple other presentations the HRC gave on its findings that several council members had attended previously.
Comments became hostile at times as community members attacked council members specifically. McAlister in particular was criticized after pressing City Principal Analyst Melvin Gaines, who gave the recommendation, on how the Mountain View Police Department is doing in comparison to nearby cities.
“I was trying to put that in context with other cities around us so that you will learn that Mountain View, even with its faults, is a good city and has a good police department,” McAlister responded. “But you don’t want to listen.”
Another member of the public called Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga out while she was “looking down and not at me,” saying that the Council was not taking the issue seriously; Abe-Koga raised a notepad after the comment was made.
“I’m a woman of color, and when I’m yelled at by other people, especially people who are not of color, I question whether that’s an implicit bias,” Abe-Koga said in response. “As much as I appreciate the public engagement with this issue, the one thing I’ve been disappointed in is — I would call this implicit bias — there’s been a lot of skepticism here. And I would like to ask folks to open up your mind.”
The Council’s comments reflected an optimistic view of the PSAB as a means for facilitating critical communication, emphasizing the need to build trust and community between residents and the police.
“One of the cries that we heard this summer is, ‘Don’t silence me. Hear me. See me,’ and I think this Council has been working on that and trying to tackle that,” Kamei said. “This is not just the Council being performative. I feel like this is one of those steps in bringing real tangible change and action.”
STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN AND GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG
Deputy Police Chief Chris Hsuing is set to become Mountain View Police Department’s Chief this December, taking the place of Max Bosel, who announced his retirement Friday, November 6.
The Post spoke to Hsiung — who’s set to assume his role on Sunday, December 27 — about his background and vision for the MVPD moving forward, especially in light of recent social movements advocating for police reform.
When asked about the phrase “all cops are bastards” or “ACAB,” Hsiung expressed frustration with the public perception.
“It hurts on a personal level,” Hsuing said. “We were all entering the pandemic before the tragic events in Minneapolis. We had many communities thanking first responders, we went from being thanked to driving by nine year olds with the ACAB signs. The vast majority of officers who get into this work do not do it for accolades or to hurt people.”
Previously, Hsiung’s predecessor, Bosel, had expressed a similar sentiment when asked about phrases like “ACAB.”
“A hate for all police officers … is a phobia that I suggest is as unjust and misplaced as other biases,” Bosel said at a Mountain View City Council meeting in June.
Hsuing indicated that he is likely to maintain the Department’s current trajectory, despite taking on his role in one of the most tumultuous times of police relations in the country.
“The MVPD has always enjoyed a very progressive mindset and leadership culture,” Hsuing said when asked about possible reform.
Hsuing, who has been in the Department since 1995, said that he does not have any specific policies he wants to implement once he assumes his new role and will instead work to continue current police initiatives.
Hsuing got his start in law enforcement in his high school years volunteering with his local police department, then worked with San Jose State’s police department as he was finishing his degree in sociology and behavioral science.
He was then hired by the MVPD, and has since worked in a Santa Clara County High Tech Task Force, where he worked with the FBI to fight cyber crime and trade theft cases.
Hsuing wants to continue the Mountain View student resource officer (SRO) program, despite the widespread backlash it generated at several forums the City has hosted on the topic recently.
“To only paint the picture of a school to prison pipeline is incorrect,” Hsuing said. “There are some communities in this country where there is an officer on campus and their only job is enforcement. But our job is really to be there for the kids that they can trust and go to in times of trouble.”
Hsuing is especially proud of the MVPD’s “Dreams & Futures” program, which works with schools to identify and protect children in grades 4–7 at a “high risk” of getting involved in gangs or substance abuse.
“You take someone who’s at risk and you take them on a college campus tour — it helps,” Hsuing said. “I’m very proud to say that many of those kids have either come back as counselors themselves or go on to work in careers in law enforcement or fire service.”
Recent protests have, in addition to removing SROs from school campuses, called for moving responsibility for mental health responses away from police departments and toward trained responders; Hsiung, however, said that there are many difficulties that the general public isn’t seeing.
“There is this well intentioned statement that cops should not go to mental health, but it gets very difficult once you understand the layers involved,” he said. “It’s really complicated, as to be a mental health worker people need certain qualifications”
Currently, Santa Clara County handles a majority of the mental health–related calls, but it is unclear how much the City contributes to the County response.
At an Ad-Hoc Subcommittee on Race, Equity and Inclusion meeting on Thursday, November 19, members of the public called for city-level support for County programs in the form of funding or personnel. Currently, according to Hsuing, the County is having issues finding employees for mental health services.
“They just can’t get people to be interested — it’s not a very attractive position,” he said about the difficulty in finding mental health workers.
Hsiung said, however, that the Department is still looking into other solutions to the issue.
As a long-term solution for community oversight of the Police Department, Mountain View may implement a “Public Safety Advisory Board” (PSAB), following a City staff recommendation at tonight’s Ad-Hoc Subcommittee meeting on Race, Equity and Inclusion (REI).
The PSAB would be tasked with hosting public forums, reviewing police data and making recommendations about police relations to the police chief and City Council; however, it would act “solely in an advisory capacity,” meaning that it’d ultimately be up to the City Council to vote in any measures that it recommended.
The Council would appoint up to seven members and “should strive to appoint members who bring diverse community representation.”
This board follows a “Review Boards and Commissions” model which has generally been used in other communities when “community-police relations are strained but not broken,” according to the staff report.
“We don’t have a significant amount of tension between MVPD and community members that suggests there’s a high level of community distrust,” City Principal Analyst Melvin Gaines said. “We do have a number of community members who have had negative interactions with police, and these are all valid concerns, but the recommendation is due to our belief that this better serves the community.”
The decision was made based on crime statistics, use of force data and community feedback, according to Gaines. He added that the relatively low rates of crime, police complaints and use of force did not indicate the need for a more rigorous model of police oversight, such as external auditing or investigative agencies.
During public comment, however, community members expressed frustration with the recommendation.
“It’s disappointing to hear that after all of these months of talking, the City is recommending another forum,” Trini Inouye, a member of the Mountain View Coalition for Police Reform and Accountability (MVCPRA), said. “This conversation that we’re having is not just about trust — it’s about right and wrong.”
Other MVCPRA members advocated for more concrete police reform, primarily the removal of student resource officers (SROs) from Mountain View campuses and city-level support for the Santa Clara Mobile Response Team, which seeks to reroute emergency mental health calls to medical professionals rather than local police departments.
Multiple community members also criticized the PSAB’s lack of “real” authority.
“I think the recommendation is great, but a body that has oversight needs to have some authority and some more teeth in order to get buy-in from the members and trust from the community,” resident Alexander Brown said.
Mayor Margeret Abe-Koga responded by saying that she did in fact take commission recommendations seriously, having served on two herself. Still, she maintained that it is ultimately the City Council’s job to make policy decisions.
Multiple REI subcommittee members expressed their support for the staff recommendation as a good fit for the city’s needs. Because the REI subcommittee is ad-hoc, many members viewed the PSAB as a way to continue police reform work after the subcommittee closes.
“It will take some time; it’s not all going to be resolved at one time,” Council Member Lucas Ramirez. “But I think having a sustained community body is a great start.”
“We’re not Minneapolis and we’re not Atlanta,” Abe-Koga said. “I’ve heard from a lot of people and frankly, it’s mostly positive. But of course, there’s always room for improvement.”
A more complete staff report, including information from other community forum sessions, will be presented to the full Council on Tuesday, December 1.
Sunday, November 10: This story was updated to correct the acronym for Mountain View Coalition for Police Reform and Accountability from “MVCFRA” to “MVCPRA.”