100,000 meals later, Hope’s Corner continues serving in the pandemic

STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN AND AGNES MAR, PHOTOS COURTESY MIKE HACKER

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. 

The recipient of Hope’s Corner’s 100,000th meal poses for a photo. (courtesy Mike Hacker)

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. 

To help out, you can visit Hope’s Corner’s wish list or contact them here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allison Huang contributed to this report.

Through biting criticism, MV City Council votes unanimously to form police advisory board

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.”

“We went from being thanked to driving by nine year olds with ACAB signs”: MVPD Deputy Chief Chris Hsuing set to take over Dept.

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. 

Los Altos’ City Council recently voted to eliminate the SRO program from Los Altos High School, following the recommendations of a police task force.

“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.

Mountain View may implement community advisory board to oversee Police Dept.

STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN, PHOTO BY GIL RUBINSTEIN

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.”

COVID-19 Updates

Tuesday, Feb. 23: San Mateo County falls to red tier, Santa Clara poised to follow suit

San Mateo County has fallen to the red tier of coronavirus restrictions, effective tomorrow, Feb. 24. Santa Clara County — whose adjusted case rate, test positivity rate and health equity quartile qualify for the red tier — will make a similar drop if numbers hold for two consecutive weeks.

In the red tier, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms may open indoors with capacity limits. Schools currently ineligible for in-person instruction may begin to reopen five days into the red tier; specific reopening plans are left up to individual school districts.

Both the Mountain View–Los Altos and Palo Alto Unified school districts are slated to make optional in-person returns once permitted.

Travel beyond 120 miles from the home as well as “non-essential” travel continues to be strongly discouraged in the red tier. All outdoor sports competition is allowed irrespective of coronavirus tier.

A full list of allowed operation in the red tier, via San Mateo County:

  • Restaurants indoors (max 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer)
  • All retail indoors (max 50% capacity)
  • Shopping centers, swap meets indoors (max 50% capacity, closed common areas, reduced capacity food courts)
  • Personal care services — hair and nail salons, barbershops (open with modifications)
  • Museums, zoos and aquariums (max 25% capacity)
  • Places of worship (max 25% capacity)
  • Movie theaters indoors (max 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer)
  • Gyms and fitness centers indoors (max 10% capacity)
  • Family entertainment centers (kart racing, mini-golf, batting cages) outdoors only with modifications

Amusement parks, bars without meal service, bowling alleys, indoor playgrounds, live theater, saunas and steam rooms, nightclubs and festivals are not permitted.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Wednesday, Feb. 17: Santa Clara County to expand vaccine eligibility to Phase 1B

Effective Feb. 28, Santa Clara County will expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination tiers, which includes workers in education and childcare; food and agriculture; and emergency services.

County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said at a press conference today that now is the “optimal time” to expand vaccination eligibility, asserting that the county has enough capacity to serve more residents; she noted that nearly half of the county’s 65-and-up bracket has now been vaccinated.

“As everyone knows, the more people we can get vaccinated, the better off we all are,” Cody said. “This is our best estimation of the optimal timing to make that transition.”

When asked for an estimation of when the county will hit the red tier of coronavirus restrictions, Cody contended that it’s “difficult to know,” noting a decline in case rates since the first week of January but also the emergence of new, more easily transmissible COVID-19 strains.

“Everyone, when you do become eligible, please get vaccinated,” Cody said. “We’ve made great progress — and we want it to continue.”

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Friday, Feb. 12: New CDC guidance recommends Santa Clara County schools open for full in-person instruction 

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.

The CDC’s tiered system (via the CDC)

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.

California restrictions, however, prevent schools that had not offered in-person instruction for a full grade level prior to entering the purple tier in November from reopening until falling to the state’s red tier; that includes the Mountain View–Los Altos School District and Palo Alto Unified School District secondary schools, which both have plans to return in the red tier, although not for “full in-person instruction” as the CDC suggests.

Currently, Santa Clara County sits in the purple tier of the state’s system, needing to fall from 21.7 to 7 new daily cases per 100,000 in the population to qualify for the red tier.

STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN AND TOMOKI CHIEN


Thursday, Feb. 4: County to vaccinate residents age 65 and up regardless of healthcare provider or insurance

Santa Clara County will now begin vaccinating all residents age 65 and up regardless of health care provider or insurance. 

This latest development comes after county officials just weeks ago expressed frustration with a “chaotic” distribution process, and as the county now approaches 1,500 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic a year ago. Individuals over the age of 65 account for nearly 85% of the total deaths in the county, officials noted.

“We are willing and able to distribute the vaccines and we have the infrastructure,” said County Executive Officer Jeff Smith. “However, the big caveat is that we need to get enough vaccines, and the limiting factor is the manufacturing.”

The county is implementing a “no wrong door” approach that allows eligible residents to get vaccinated at any site, whether it be with a private partner such as the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, or a public site such as the recently opened vaccination center at the Mountain View community center. 

“We still have scarcity of this vaccine, we still have a limited supply, and frankly we still have a chaotic environment with changing state guidance almost daily,” said County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. 

Eligible residents can schedule an appointment at vax.sccgov.org.

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN AND GARV VIRGINKAR


Monday, Jan. 25: State lifts regional stay-at-home order

The California Department of Public Health has lifted stay-at-home orders across the state, following a rise in four-week ICU capacity projections above 15% in the three regions still under the order as of yesterday.

Counties will now revert back to the coronavirus tier system, in which restrictions are determined based on coronavirus cases and test positivity rates. A majority of Bay Area counties will continue to sit in the purple tier. 

The Bay Area’s ICU capacity is currently at 23.4%, with health officials noting that the four-week projection is also above the 15% threshold.

As during the stay-at-home order, non-essential businesses are still required to remain shuttered, while restaurants are able to open for outdoor dining only.

Hair salons, barber shops, retail stores, malls, outdoor museums, zoos and essential businesses may remain in operation with limited capacity.

Additionally, season one high school sports in the Santa Clara Valley Athletics League are now permitted to begin competition on Feb. 15.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND GARV VIRGINKAR


Friday, January 15: Through fractured distribution process, Santa Clara County officials blast vaccination protocol

County officials today expressed frustration with a scattered vaccine distribution process which gives the county limited oversight over distribution within its bounds.

Currently, all healthcare workers and residents over the age of 75 are eligible for vaccination. State guidance puts residents over age 65 in the eligible bracket, but as it stands, a majority of providers in the county do not have the resources to expand beyond the 75-and-up range.

The Kaiser Permanente system, however, is in fact vaccinating the age 65 bracket.

Further complicating matters, the CVS-Walgreens partnership — responsible for vaccinating older residents in long-term care facilities — receives doses directly from the federal government.

Multi-county entities like Kaiser and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation — which serve a vast majority of the county population — get their shipments through state allocation.

The county has no oversight over either distribution lane.

“We recognize we’re in an environment of changing federal and state information daily,” said County Counsel James Williams at a press conference. “It’s extraordinarily frustrating for us here locally.”

Williams bemoaned a “distracted” federal government, citing the Trump administration’s focus on bogus claims of election fraud, rather than the “raging” pandemic.

“We learned a few days ago that the federal government was going to release stockpiles of vaccines that were being held for second doses,” he said. “We learned this morning that no such stockpile exists.”

Just this week, Santa Clara County surpassed the 1,000 death mark, currently sitting at 1,028 cumulative deaths since the pandemic arrived a year ago. And, in the midst of the full force of the holiday surge, the county has logged a 10.8% test positivity rate over the past 14 days, spurring an ever-dwindling ICU capacity.

County residents are encouraged to visit sccfreevax.org for more information regarding vaccine eligibility and distribution. 

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Saturday, January 9: Bay Area stay-at-home order extended as region’s ICU capacity continues to fall

After failing to reach an ICU capacity of 15% or higher, the Bay Area region — Santa Clara County included — is now under an extended stay-at-home order, set to be reassessed once the region’s four-week ICU capacity projection hits the 15% threshold.

As of now, the Bay Area’s capacity sits at 3%.

“With the current surge of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations, the County expects to be under the restrictions of this State order for some time,” reads a press release from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

Statewide, 29,233 Californians have died from the coronavirus since it first landed in January; Santa Clara County accounts for 815 of those deaths.

Just yesterday, Jan. 8, the state saw 695 new deaths, 16 of which came from Santa Clara County.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Wednesday, December 30: Newsom proposes to provide schools with $450 per student for in-person instruction

Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a revised school reopening plan this morning, the centerpiece of which is a $2-billion grant from the state government in order to aid schools in their transition to in-person instruction. 

If approved in January, the funds will provide districts that open for in-person instruction $450 dollars per student; the state will give priority aid to schools with large numbers of low-income students or English learners. 

The state is targeting mid to late spring as the timeframe for students’ return. 

The governor cited recent studies showing that schools which have implemented standard safety procedures such as mask wearing and social distance do not act as superspreader events. 

Under the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions — which much of the state is still under — schools that had not begun in-person instruction prior to the purple shift are prohibited from reopening for in-person instruction.

Teachers will be given priority for vaccination, and all staff and students will be given and required to wear personal protective equipment. A public database tracking infections and positive tests within schools will be launched in the near future. 

Newsom maintains that the priority for reopening is still to bring younger students, mainly those in grades TK–2 into the classroom first, citing lower rates of depression and both social and emotional development; older students will be phased in through the spring.

“[In-person learning] is especially important for our youngest kids, those with disabilities, those with limited access to technology at home and those who have struggled more than most with distance learning,” Newsom said. 

STORY BY GARV VIRGINKAR


Monday, December 28: COVID-19 is the projected third leading cause of death in Santa Clara County

The sobering toll of the pandemic comes nearly a year after the county’s first coronavirus case.

Since the first confirmed coronavirus case in late January — with the first death following just days after — the county has seen a total of 65,288 positive cases and 652 deaths; that makes COVID-19 this year’s projected third leading cause of death in the county, behind only cancer and heart disease. 

A reminder of some the County’s coronavirus restrictions:

  1. “Social bubbles” are prohibited given the stay-at-home order, which bars gatherings with members of other households.
  2. Travel is highly discouraged, with a mandatory 10-day quarantine for travel 150 miles outside of County boundaries.

Despite warnings from public health officials and a restrictive stay-at-home order, hospitals have seen a surge in coronavirus cases through the holiday season — likely due to family gatherings and travel. The daily death toll has nearly doubled since before Thanksgiving, going from three to almost six deaths per day.

via Santa Clara County Public Health Dept.

“If you have plans to travel, go home and cancel them,” County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said in a press conference last Wednesday, December 23. “Cancel your travel plans. Celebrate over the phone, over social media, over Zoom. Cook a meal in your home and enjoy it with just the people in your home. It can save a life. It will save a life and it’s very important to do. … If we have a surge on top of a surge, we will definitely break. We cannot afford that.”

Only 39 available ICU beds remain in the county, with eight hospitals having fewer than five available beds and three hospitals having fewer than 10. Remaining ICU capacity in the Bay Area region sits at 9.5 percent, with a similar 9.5 percent test positivity rate over the last 14 days.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND GARV VIRGINKAR


Friday, December 4: Bay Area falls under stay-at-home order, effective Sunday

The shelter-in-place — announced jointly by health officers from the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and Santa Clara as well as the City of Berkeley — is set to go in place in Santa Clara County this Sunday, December 6.

Schools that have received waivers, critical infrastructure, retail at 20 percent capacity and restaurants with take-out and delivery may remain open. Businesses that will be temporarily closed include bars, wineries, personal services, hair salons and barbershops.

Bay Area health officers made the move despite not yet hitting the 15 percent ICU capacity threshold set by the State yesterday. This is the most aggressive action taken against the coronavirus since March.

Yesterday, Governor Gavin Newsom mandated stay-at-home orders for regions with ICU capacities under 15 percent; none of the five California regions have hit that threshold yet, but the vast majority of the state is expected to reach it in the next few days. 

Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody did note that the county’s ICU capacity is at 14 percent, but the region as a whole is still above the threshold.

The Bay Area region is projected to fall below 15 percent capacity by mid- to late December, but county health officers jointly agreed to put the order in effect preemptively, in an effort to stave off rising cases.

“We cannot wait until after we have driven off the cliff to pull the emergency brake,” Cody said. “We understand that the closures under the State order will have a profound impact on our local businesses. However, if we act quickly, we can both save lives and reduce the amount of time these restrictions have to stay in place, allowing businesses and activities to reopen sooner.” 

The order will remain in place until Monday, January 4.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Thursday, December 3: Governor Newsom announces stay-at-home order for regions with ICU capacity below 15 percent

Effective today, regions where ICU capacity falls below 15 percent will be subject to a three-week stay-at-home order; regions include the Bay Area, Northern California, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

via Office of the Governor

Under current trends, the State projects that the Bay Area will fall below the 15 percent threshold by mid- to late December and reach ICU capacity by early January. The other four regions are expected to fall below the threshold within the next few days.

Once under a stay-at-home order, schools that have received waivers, critical infrastructure, retail at 20 percent capacity and restaurants with take-out and delivery may remain open. Businesses that will be temporarily closed include bars, wineries, personal services, hair salons and barbershops.

The move today comes in an effort to protect against an anticipated rise of COVID-19 cases following the Thanksgiving weekend.

This is a temporary moment — this is not a permanent state,” Newsom said. “There is light at the end of the tunnel. We are a few months away from truly seeing real progress with the vaccine … we do not anticipate having to do this once again but we really all need to step up.”

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Tuesday, December 1: CIF moves earliest start date to January, scraps season one regional and state championships

The California Interscholastic Federation announced today in a press release that the earliest start date for season one sports will be Friday, January 1.

Additionally, all season one state and regional competitions are canceled, and boys volleyball has been moved to season two. A modified season two calendar will be released in January.  

“By canceling regional and state championship events, more student-athletes will have the opportunity to participate in a longer season, rather than a truncated season with regional and state post-season play for a limited number of schools,” CIF’s press release reads.

The delay comes after Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement of tightened coronavirus restrictions on Monday, November 16, after which CIF announced that competition would be put on hold until further notice; today’s announcement solidifies that decision, giving coaches and athletes an earliest date of return.

“CIF is confident this decision is a necessary and reasonable action for our member schools, student-athletes, and school communities in light of the current statewide crisis,” CIF’s press release reads.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND OLIVIA HEWANG


Sunday, November 29: MVLA shutters sports cohorts

In emails to Mountain View–Los Altos School District coaches last night, athletic directors at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools announced the shutdown of all athletics cohorts until further notice; that decision comes following a rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in the county.

“Due to the increase of COVID cases in the county, we are postponing all athletic cohorts until further notice,” the email from Los Altos Athletic Director Michelle Noeth reads.

It is not immediately clear if the move is related to the County’s tightened restrictions set to go in effect tomorrow; at the time of publication, neither athletic director could be reached for comment.

“While we realize that these cohorts have been a great support to our students, at this time we feel that we need to be cautious when we return from Thanksgiving,” Noeth wrote, adding that the cohorts will not be reopened “until we hear differently from the County.”

The MVLA move follows decisions from Gunn and Paly, which shuttered their cohorts on Wednesday, November 18, after the county moved into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions; technically, existing cohorts are still allowed to train under the purple tier.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Saturday, November 28: Santa Clara County announces new COVID-19 restrictions, San Mateo County moves into purple tier

The revisions to the existing Santa Clara restrictions, effective at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, November 30, primarily include tighter limits on sports, business capacities and travel; the move comes as hospitals in the county risk running out of beds within the next few weeks. 

The Santa Clara order states that all recreational activities involving “physical contact or close proximity” to people from other households — namely, all contact sports — are prohibited. 

The order affects professional, collegiate and youth sports, including teams like the San Francisco 49ers.

It is not immediately clear how that restriction will affect existing California Interscholastic Federation guidelines for high school sports, which allow training in cohorts so long as athletes are able to maintain a 6-foot distance from one another.

“People can continue to engage in outdoor athletics and recreation where social distancing can be maintained at all times,” the order specifies.

Tighter restrictions on Santa Clara County businesses include a 10 percent capacity limit on indoor stores and “other facilities” open to the public, and a 25 percent capacity limit on grocery stores, drug stores and pharmacies.

The order further states that non-essential travel is “strongly discouraged,” and puts in place a new mandatory 14-day quarantine for persons traveling from more than 150 miles away from Santa Clara County upon their return. Healthcare workers traveling to treat patients are exempt from the quarantine period.

The restrictions will remain in place until Monday, December 21, unless further extended.

Just to the north, San Mateo County is rolling back into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions, effective tomorrow, putting in place a stay-at-home order between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. as well as a host of other restrictions almost identical to those already in Santa Clara. 

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Thursday, November 19: Santa Clara County under curfew starting Saturday

Santa Clara County is under a limited curfew starting at 10 p.m. on Saturday, November 21, in an effort to combat the increased spread of coronavirus. 

The order, issued by the California Public Health Department, mandates that all “non-essential” work, movement and gatherings cease between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in counties currently sitting in the purple tier.

The order, however, specifies that any number of persons from the same household are allowed to leave their residence during the restricted hours so long as “they do not engage in any interaction with” members of other households; presumably, that would make activities like walking, running or any other same-household outdoor activities acceptable. 

“Activities conducted during 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. are often non-essential and more likely related to social activities and gatherings that have a higher likelihood of leading to reduced …  likelihood to adhere to COVID-19 preventive measures,” the order, signed by the Acting State Public Health Officer Erica Pan reads. 

It is currently unclear how — if at all — law enforcement would compel residents to follow the order. In March, when the State originally went under a lockdown, officials specified that police departments would not enforce the shelter-in-place, and rather, would rely on “social pressure.” 

The curfew is set to end at 5 a.m on Monday, December 21.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Monday, November 16: CIF competition postponed until further notice: December return may be in jeopardy

All California Interscholastic Federation sports competition is postponed until further notice, following Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement of tighter coronavirus restrictions today. 

For now, high school sports practices in Santa Clara County will look largely the same as they have since August, with small cohorts allowed to train under a range of safety restrictions. However, all competition, as well as more relaxed guidelines — such as allowing more contact in sports like football — may be kicked down the road.

Season one sports were originally slated to return to official practice and competition early next month, but that return is in jeopardy following today’s announcement. 

“Competitions are not allowed until new guidance is provided,” CIF said in a statement today.

Along with other restrictions to businesses and schools, Newsom disclosed today that the State will not release further guidance for youth sports until coronavirus rates drop; he did not offer a timeline or a metric for that release.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Monday, November 16: Santa Clara County has moved back into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions

Santa Clara County has moved back into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions, indicating widespread transmission. Here’s what you need to know.

Schools that are currently open — such as elementary schools in LASD and PAUSD — will be allowed to continue in-person instruction. However, schools that have not yet begun an in-person return — such as PAUSD and MVLA high schools, as well as MVWSD schools — may not open until the county remains in the red tier for at least two weeks. Schools not yet open can apply for a waiver from the County Health Department to bring back grades TK–6.

Under the purple tier, restaurants will have to return to strictly takeout or outdoor dining models. Bars and breweries that do not serve meals will remain closed.

Other operations that will continue to be allowed to operate, some with modifications, include hair salons and barber shops, retail stores and malls, outdoor museums and zoos and essential businesses.

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND NATALIE WEI