PAUSD pledges to continue in-person instruction, calls for parent volunteers amid COVID-driven staffing shortages

In response to Omicron-driven staff shortages, the Palo Alto Unified School District is calling for parent volunteers to aid the district in keeping schools open in a move dubbed “1 Palo Alto.”

“Our biggest challenge is staffing right now: [keeping] people doing the jobs that we do,” Superintendent Don Austin said in a video message. “We can’t keep up; there’s no labor pool. No amount of money can solve this issue. We need your help. My request is that until the surge passes, we need our community, ‘1 Palo Alto,’ to volunteer like never before.”

Data from PAUSD’s COVID clinic between Dec. 8 and Jan. 5 show that 141 individuals, including students and staff across all elementary, middle and high school sites, reported testing positive out of 6,001 tests administered.

“Look, we’re all tired of uncertainty and may be nervous about school districts closing,” Austin said. “So I want to be clear, unless we’re compelled by an outside agency with authority, PAUSD will remain open. We will not close. … ‘1 Palo Alto’ will make this happen.”

“1 Palo Alto” calls for parents to volunteer in COVID testing clinics, food services, custodial and office assistance, supervision and classroom support across all elementary, middle and high school campuses, through an online form.

High school students may also participate in roles that are “appropriate and do not conflict with their school schedule,” according to the “1 Palo Alto” website. All volunteers must submit their vaccination status.

The district’s own COVID clinic operates one day per week at each school site. Its daily site at Cubberley Community Center was recently closed to the general public, but will continue operating Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. exclusively for PAUSD staff and students.

Snoozing, parking, pooping and eating at school: All off limits thanks to new Instagram accounts

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen accounts like @lahs_sleeps, @mvhs_badparking and @palybathroomshoes pop up all over Instagram. It seems like these days, there’s not much we can do on campus without the fear of landing ourselves on the next Instagram post. (These days being literally, like, the last five days.)

Parking, going to the bathroom, snoozing in class, slouching in class, eating bananas and eating anything anywhere seem to be off limits if you’re hoping to avoid landing on the designated Instagram account (@lahs.bad.posture, @mvhsbananacam, @lahs_eatingcam, etc.). So all of this has got us wondering: Who’s behind these accounts? What’s the point? And what’s next?

Your favorite ardent student journalists — us, obviously — took it upon ourselves to find the answers.

For anybody that ISN’T aware of this stuff: High schoolers are creating Instagram accounts where they post photos submitted by other students who spot classmates engaged in the designated subject matter (sleeping in class, parking poorly, etc.). And usually they’re pretty hilarious. It’s all a part of a broader national trend, thanks to TikTok.

Of a multitude of hilarious accounts on the Paly, Gunn, Los Altos and Mountain View campuses, @gunnbathroomshoes is one of the oldest (started on Nov. 9). We weren’t able to reach them for comment, but we DID talk to @palybathroomshoes, which has been around for almost as long. It has 287 followers, and the Gunn account has 430.

The account’s dedicated to posting under-the-stall pictures — taken mostly by strangers, according to one of the anonymous account admins — of students’ shoes.

“I can tell what kind of person someone is by their shoes in a way,” one admin said. “Converse can be artsy or basic, and combat boots tend to be worn by goth people. People with dirty shoes tend to be in the bathrooms changing for sports.”

The idea was born when the three friends discussed it at a dinner and thought it could be a hit, especially following the creation of @gunnbathroomshoes, which was created by a friend of one of the Paly account admins.

“It’s interesting how close I am to other people in bathroom stalls but no one ever talks, so in a way it feels violating for no reason,” the admin said.

As for privacy, the account will take down bathroom shoe posts upon request, and the owners say they aren’t concerned about school administrative action. For now, it seems @palybathroomshoes will live on for “as long as people send us bathroom shoes.”

And the fun isn’t limited to just Gunn and Paly! The two most-followed accounts at Los Altos (which also has its very own bathroom shoes account), are @lahs_sleeps and @lahs.bad.posture, and you can probably guess what they’re up to.

“We’re fixing the posture of LAHS one post at a time,” said one of @lahs.bad.posture’s admins, both of whom are seniors. “Carrying the spine health of the student body on our back, if you will.”

The account, which already has 30 posts and 389 followers since starting this Tuesday, features photos of students in the library, quad, 400 wing and classrooms — basically anywhere — sitting with bad posture. Ruthless.

What kind of criteria do the account admins have for “bad posture?” Well, it sounds like there’s nothing too strict. But the only time two of them haven’t posted a photo is when somebody asked them to take it down — something that’s only happened once, and it was one of their friends.

@lahs_sleeps, which posts photos of students snoozing in class, has more strict submission criteria.

“I’ve only had the account for a couple days, but I’ve already gotten about 75 submissions,” said the account admin, who’s a junior. “There have been some pretty bad submissions, like when the person is not even sleeping or they’re obviously staging it. … I know it’s staged when I can see the person in the photo smiling or something like that. They’re still pretty hilarious, but for now I’m not posting them because it doesn’t seem as fun.”

And that formula seems to be working: Since starting the account on Tuesday, the account already has 45 posts and 537 followers. Both @lahs_sleeps and @lahs.bad.posture had thoughts on respecting privacy, and where to draw the line.

“Most of the accounts going around are pretty funny, but I feel like some of them do push the boundaries,” said @lahs.bad.posture’s admin, listing a couple accounts that we won’t link to. “I think going too far is making fun of people for something they can’t really fix right away.”

Posture, they noted, is something you can fix quickly: It’s “no big deal.”

“There have been some pretty concerning accounts which just ruin the fun of it,” said @lahs_sleeps’s admin. “I’ve seen accounts targeting people of color, special education students and a lot of other pretty mean stuff. Thankfully most of them get reported and suspended pretty quickly, though.”

We weren’t able to independently verify the existence of such accounts — probably because they’ve been taken down. 

“Since the start, I’ve made it clear that I’m respecting people’s privacy, so I’ve said in my bio that you can request a photo of you be taken down, which has happened already,” said @lahs_sleeps’s admin.

It should be noted that Los Altos also has a “bad parking” account, taking inspiration from its Mountain View equivalent, @mvhs_badparking, which first appeared in early October with its signature posts critiquing the parking jobs of students and sporting captions such as “Park more to the left next time” and “Yikes.”

The first of these accounts to emerge within local schools, @mvhs_badparking’s charm has allowed it to surpass 500 followers. While the account doesn’t shy away from capturing “Monday madness” (which is realistically a week-long occurrence), it does censor license plates in its posts. The account sadly did not respond to our interview request.

But luckily for us (and you!) @mvhsbananacam did respond. The account captures students, as the name might suggest, eating bananas, and has racked up 278 followers since late November.

One might ask: Why bananas? While the admin gained inspiration from TikTok, there’s a second, surprisingly logical reason: They’re already all over campus at brunch.

“[The account’s] probably going to last until people stop sending in pictures or when the brunch ladies stop giving out bananas,” the anonymous admin said.

The account has posted all but one photo that it has received: a photo of “just a banana [with] a fork in it.”

“No clue what’s going on there,” the admin said.

Nearly all of these submissions are sent in by “random” other students, with only a select few knowing the admin’s true identity. So, how is the admin feeling about it all? And what’s the account’s secret to gaining followers?

“[I was] a bit [surprised by the number of followers], but we spam requested like 150, so not too much,” the admin said.

What do students think of this? Well, the general consensus seems to be that the accounts are hilarious. But some are probably thinking twice about doing things that they might’ve otherwise done if it weren’t for these accounts.

“The bathroom feet one honestly makes me so scared to even use LAHS bathrooms at this point,” said @lahs.bad.posture’s admin.

“Honestly yeah, [I’m terrified], because I have terrible posture and I eat like an idiot,” said Los Altos sophomore Katie Skaggs.

Paly flea markets are back: Here are some of our favorite vendors

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND MELODY XU, PHOTOS BY TOMOKI CHIEN

Palo Alto High School’s long-running flea market is back, after a pandemic-induced pause. We stopped by the market — held every second Saturday of the month in Paly’s parking lot — to profile some of the vendors that stood out to us.

All proceeds from the flea market (fees vendors pay for their stalls) go toward Paly’s instrumental music programs.

MARK JOHANSEN

In case you didn’t know, those Hot Wheels from your kindergarten glory days could be good for something more than collecting dust. Because at Mark Johansen’s flea market stand, they’re in vogue. 

“Batmobile, that’s like an anniversary set there,” Johansen said, as he walked us through his half dozen cases of Hot Wheels. “Chuck E. Cheese and anything with Jiffy lube — stuff like that — is more collectible than the average ones. But the old Redlines, those are worth the most.”

Johansen’s two-table setup featured mostly toys, but on the day we went, the 20+ year Paly flea market vendor also had artwork for sale.

“I make more having garage sales, believe it or not; [I came] just because I haven’t been in three years because of the pandemic,” Johansen said, with a sort of shrug.

MANDY MACCALLA

“Five & Dime” by Mandy MacCalla had dozens of artwork pieces laid out on the carpet for exclusively either five or 10 dollars, as suggested by the stand’s title.

“Some of this art are things that I bought out of interest for myself. However, my walls are crowded with art — and my children are mad at me — and so that’s why I brought [them] today to sell,” MacCalla said.

MacCalla said most of her art was acquired at the Friends of the Palo Alto Library’s book sale, the bargains of which allow her, in turn, to price her artwork at an affordable price. 

“I definitely look for anything that is signed by the artist, anything that’s either an original print of some sort or a painting,” MacCalla said.

This month’s flea market was MacCalla’s first since the pandemic. MacCalla exclusively sells at the Paly flea market as a hobby.

BARRY MILLS

Vinyl is back, and Barry Mills has got you covered. Or if you’re looking for an alto sax, he’s got you covered too. Or a blender. Or picture frames. Or a 2008 reproduction of Coca-Cola’s original 1899 bottle. Or whatever.

CDs and records are his main thing, though.

“This is a business in retirement, just to keep me busy,” Mills said. “If I had to live on this, I’d starve.”

It might be a business in retirement, but Mills has been selling at flea markets since his teens, and at the Paly market long before the pandemic pause (he couldn’t recall exactly how long).

Maybe surprisingly, Mills said that while his CDs don’t sell nearly as well as his records, people still snatch them up to play in their cars. And it’s a pretty diverse crowd that stops by his stand.

“Right now, it’s all kinds of people,” Mills said. “There’s the old folks like me that still like the records. And there’s such a new market for the young people who are really getting into vinyl.”

MARTIE COFFMAN

Martie Coffman’s stand had dozens of colorful bracelets which were intricately handcrafted by herself. Jewelry-making is a personal hobby she got into just last year — but it’d be hard to tell upon first glance.

“I’m a late bloomer,” Coffman said. “I just [used] YouTube videos, basically. I’d see a video and then make my own thing; just learn the technique.”

Coffman uses a variety of techniques in crafting her bracelets, from wire braiding to “stretchies” to coil techniques. Whenever she and her husband aren’t traveling to flea markets, Coffman sells her bracelets on online platforms Mercari and Poshmark.

“This is our first time here,” she said. “I’ve been to the San Jose one twice, I’ve been to Berkeley, [and] been up north to Sebastopol.”

CHUCK NORTON

Radio DJ-turned vintage clothing collector Chuck Norton has come to the last two Paly flea markets with a rack of handpicked clothing from thrift stores.

“I had a long radio career,” Norton said. “I worked as a DJ for many years, and I just started collecting [clothes] when I had time … lately, I’ve been doing several flea markets.”

Norton’s clothing rack hung attractive pieces such as vintage Hawaiian shirts (“they don’t make shirts like this anymore”) and vintage Stanford merchandise.

“I sell mostly vintage clothing [that] can go back to the 50s,” Norton said.

Norton has been going to flea markets on and off since the 1990s, a hobby he adopted through his passion for clothing collection.

“It’s just a hobby. I buy a lot of stuff and if I see stuff that I think I could sell, I’ll do that,” Norton said. 

TIBETAN GOLDEN LOTUS

Generally, vendors at the flea market have items that — while unique and specific to their own niches — could probably be found at most garage sales and thrift stores if you looked hard enough. 

But that might not be the case with the Tibetan Golden Lotus. The stand, which was manned by Tashi Tsatan on the day we visited,  specializes in 100+ year old Tibetan antiques, jewelry and textiles.

Tsatan helps out his mom (who owns the business), and said the Golden Lotus has a permanent store in San Francisco and is trying out the Paly flea market to see what business is like.

Something that might stick out to the teenage crowd from the stand’s other products are the crystals labeled with various healing powers, which could very well draw skepticism from the more critical. But Tsatan had a pretty good take.

“It’s all about whether you believe it or not,” he said. “Even if it’s helpful, if you don’t believe it, it’s not going to help.”

MIKE GEORGETTE

Mike Georgette’s flea market stand is dedicated solely to Mad Magazine memorabilia. But now, he wants “to stay married,” so he’s gotta start selling some of it.

“It comes from a collection I started when I was 13 years old,” Georgette said. “It was kind of taboo back then. You kinda had to hide them in the closet from the parents.”

Georgette doesn’t sell any of his stuff online, but instead specializes in selling at street markets. When we visited him at the Paly market, it was his third time there.

But beyond just wanting to stay married, Georgette has a bigger goal.

“[I’m] trying to get kids to collect again,” he said. “To see that it’s a hobby, it’s fun and that it’s an ongoing process.”

PAUSD opens COVID testing clinic to local community

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTO BY EMILY YAO

The Palo Alto Unified School District opened its COVID Clinic to the local community on Nov. 1, as part of the district’s ongoing COVID-19 vaccination and testing efforts.

The testing clinic is open to all community members on Monday–Friday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the Cubberley Community Center. Prior registration is recommended but not necessary. 

Supporting its site reopenings following the pandemic, PAUSD initially exclusively tested staff before including testing offerings to students on school sites on a scheduled, weekly basis. The district recently partnered with Safeway to offer tests for all residents, including district families.

“This kind of goes back to our commitment of service,” Assistant Superintendent Yolanda Conaway said. “We said, ‘What can we offer to our entire community?’”

According to Conaway, the clinic has already seen success in the past few weeks of operation.

“We’re seeing a lot of visitors just on observation,” Conaway said, “But we hope to get some numbers so that we can see exactly how many of our community members are taking advantage of it.” 

PAUSD’s current testing locations. While school site testing is limited to students and staff, the Cubberley site is open to the greater community. Photo courtesy of PAUSD.

The district has also taken steps for five to 11 year old student vaccinations. The first dose of a “pediatric clinic” took place on Nov. 21 at the Palo Alto High School Peery Family Center, with a second dose scheduled for Dec. 12. Adult booster shots were also administered for staff. 

“I’m proud of the work that our county offices are doing in our public health department,” Conaway said. “Because it’s the effort of all of us, in my opinion, that’s going to really stave this thing off and help us get back to some sense of normalcy in our community.”

A Touch of Sweet: High school junior bakes cookies for a good cause

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTOS BY ARYA NASIKKAR

Middle College junior Amanda Yun spent her summer break this year in an unconventional way: creating her own online bakery.

A Touch of Sweet Bakery specializes in baked goods ranging from matcha shortbreads to toffee and walnut chocolate chip cookies (Yun’s self-proclaimed signature item), all made from scratch with organic ingredients.

All profits are donated to local organizations selected by Yun, such as Fresh Approach (a Bay Area nonprofit aiming to increase accessibility of healthy food in lower income households) and Pie Ranch (a sustainable and organic farm in Pescadero) in order to support sustainable agriculture, which is important to Yun.

“I take that idea of organic ingredients into my baking, because I noticed that there are a lot of tasty baked goods on the market right now, but there aren’t that many that actually use organic ingredients,” Yun said. “My goal is to fill that gap and provide delicious baked goods made with high quality and organic ingredients.”

Yun poses for a photo with plates of freshly baked cookies.

While building a project like A Touch of Sweet has countless facets, from website design to applying for licenses, Yun said recipe testing was the most time-consuming; it was a long, iterative process. She partially credits the willingness of her friends and family willing to taste endless trials of goods. 

“It’s kind of like the scientific method we learned in school; I would make one version of the recipe, and then I would taste that to see what I thought needed changing, and then I would change that small variable and then bake it again,” Yun said. “It’s just a lot of baking and trying and baking and trying.”

Yun now aims to expand and raise money from the community to achieve her goals of supporting the causes she’s passionate about. As one of her first major fundraisers, Yun donated cookies to a fundraiser to help Afghan refugees in need, and she hopes to continue gaining community traction. 

“I just hope that people see this as a way to support these causes that will eventually come back to them,” Yun said.

From start to present, building the bakery has been a worthwhile and meaningful experience for Yun.

“[A Touch of Sweet] is kind of a creative outlet for me,” Yun said. “Sometimes it’s hard to find time to do things that you love, especially when you have school to balance. This is a way for me to ensure that I’m still taking time to do fun stuff and things that are important to me … it’s just been really fun to turn something that I love into a bigger project.”

A Touch of Sweet Bakery is open for orders via its website.

Chronic absenteeism in PAUSD secondary schools increases by 1.6 percentage points from 2020 levels

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTO BY EMILY YAO

Newly released Palo Alto Unified School District attendance data shows that chronic absenteeism among the district’s high schooler student body has increased by 1.6 percentage points this year.

7.1% of PAUSD high schoolers were recorded to be chronically absent between Aug. 12 and Sept. 17, which is an increase from 2019 and 2020 levels in which 5.3% and 5.5% of the student body were chronically absent, respectively. The district attributed the increase to COVID-19 related factors such as mandated quarantines and health concerns.

District documents define a “chronic absentee” as a student absent for 10% of school days on which they are enrolled and school takes place; both unexcused and excused absences are included in this number.

Chronic absenteeism is notably higher in groups like Black students (18.1%), socioeconomically disadvantaged students (16.9%) and special education students (16.3%) — all of which have increased from 2019, though attendance has long been an “area of concern” within the district. 

Palo Alto High School Student Board Representative Michaiah Acosta suggested that the reason for elevated chronic absenteeism in specific groups may be caused by on-campus dynamics.

“When students don’t have someone at school who they feel like they can relate to on a deeper level … they are less inclined to actually go to school and perform well,” Acosta said.

Board member Jennifer Dibrienza echoed Acosta’s sentiment.

“I think we have long looked at attendance as the problem, and sometimes it’s the symptom of another problem,” Dibrienza said.

PAUSD’s tiered attendance system aims to be “relationship based,” according to Guillermo Lopez, the district’s director of student services and supports.

Tier 1 support starts at any unexcused absence or unexcused tardy over 30 minutes. The district might call home, take attendance in a “caring manner” and provide personalized outreach from teachers to families. 

The goal of Tier 2 — eight unexcused class periods, the equivalent of two instructional days — is to draft plans for attendance success. 

“Continue to let the student know they are missed when not on campus,” district documents instruct. “If a student does not have a trusted adult on campus, create a connection.”

Tier 3 arrives at 12 unexcused class periods, the equivalent of six days of instruction The district sends truancy letters, and an administrator, counselor or social worker may pay a home visit. At 24 unexcused class periods, the student is required to meet with the School Attendance Review Team (SART).

Past Tier 3, home visits continue and students are required to attend a School Attendance Review Board (SARB) meeting.

Healthy attendance was listed among the district’s top five priorities for the 2021–2022 school year, as outlined in its PAUSD Promise

The PAUSD Attendance Improvement Initiative (AII), aims to work toward all identifiable student groups’ drop below 5% in chronic absenteeism.

“Some of the areas that require deeper exploration system wide are school climate and bullying, health-related issues such as stress and anxiety, academic conditions that result in school avoidance, schome situations, and individual student characteristics,” district documents said.

According to those documents, bimonthly District Office Attendance Team meetings are working to discuss attendance efforts. Student success coaches will specifically focus on attendance with groups identified through the data as needing support.

“We’re trying to get additional feedback from the site administration [on] how to better adjust the protocols in the systems that we have in place to be more mindful as to what our students are experiencing,” Lopez said. “We’re calibrating as we go.”

Local artists showcase glass-blown pumpkins at 26th annual Great Glass Pumpkin Patch

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTOS BY EMILY YAO

Local artists and art studios showcased thousands of glass pumpkins at the Palo Alto Art Center’s 26th annual Great Glass Pumpkin Patch this weekend.

Community members browsed through and purchased the glass pumpkins, which were hand-blown in a wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes, in recent months by some 25 artists. The event was hosted by the Palo Alto Art Center and Bay Area Glass Institute.

Peter Stucky (Bay Blown Glass)

A number of Peter Stucky’s glass pumpkins have two signature details, and it’s hard to say if an untrained eye could recognize them upon first glance; extra ridges in between the pumpkins’ curves and gradients that add a unique sense of dimension to the already magnificent pieces.

Beyond pumpkins, Stucky also displayed glass-blown stalks of lavender and colorful acorns. 

Stucky fell in love with glass blowing through Palo Alto High School’s glass blowing elective — the school being one of very few that offer glass blowing courses — and it quickly became his calling. 

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I was not in the right place,” Stucky said. “And then I found glass blowing, fell in love with it and it changed my life.”

In a full-circle moment, Stucky returned to the Paly Fiery Arts, this time to help run the program. He then co-founded Bay Blown Glass with partner Dana Rottler, turning it into a full-time gig one year ago.

Tate Bezdek (2BGlass)

Tate Bezdek enjoyed glass-blowing so much that he convinced his first teacher to employ him — free of charge. Now, one half of the 2BGlass brotherly glass blowing duo, Bezdek has found his unique specialty when it comes to creating pumpkins.

2BGlass pumpkins stood out amongst the patch’s hay bales, sporting circular openings at their base as well as being accompanied in purchase by small lights.

“We do pumpkins that light up,” Bezdek said. “Our pumpkins have holes in the bottom and they come with tea lights or rope lights. We mainly do a transparent color — we like the translucency of glass.”

For Bezdek, the annual event is not only a simultaneous fulfillment of his artistic passion and business sense, but also an opportunity for community building.

“A bunch of my friends do the show too, so you get to sell your work, meet with customers that enjoy your work and you get to hang out with your friends,” Bezdek said. 

Richard Small (A Small Production)

“I was a little goth kid … so [my pumpkins] have more of a gothic, industrial feel that’s pretty unique in this venue,” Richard Small said.

By the end of what was his 20th festival, most of Small’s gothic and Halloween collection of pumpkins had been swept up in customers’ baskets.

Small said the Great Glass Pumpkin Festival — especially following its first ever cancelation last year due to the pandemic — is extremely meaningful to him as an artist. While his part time online business, A Small Production, keeps him busily fulfilled, the festival’s human touch holds a space in his heart.

“At this event, you’ve got all this art just laying on the ground,” Small said. “You can walk around and see it and touch it, and you can meet the artists … We actually get to meet each other.”

California to require COVID-19 vaccination for all eligible K–12 students

STORY BY MELODY XU, GRAPHIC BY ALLISON HUANG

The state of California will soon require all eligible K–12 students in the state to receive their COVID-19 vaccines for in-person school attendance, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced today in a press conference.

The mandate, which will take effect in the semester following full Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccine for individuals between 12 and 16 years old, makes California the first state to take this step. Unvaccinated students will be required to undergo weekly COVID testing.

“While we’re proud of the fact that California has among the highest vaccination rates in America — now 77.5 percent of all eligible Californians received at least one dose — it’s not good enough,” Newsom said. “We have more work to do.”

Newsom said that the conversation about vaccines for children is familiar, citing vaccination requirements for students in both public and private schools like vaccines against the measles, mumps and rubella. 

“It’s the right thing to do to keep our most precious resource healthy and safe: our children here in the state,” Newsom said.

Everything you need to know about the drought, and how it affects Santa Clara County

STORY BY NAINA SRIVASTAVA AND MELODY XU, PHOTO BY ARYA NASIKKAR

Droughts are nowhere near a new phenomenon in California, and it can be easy to tune out the constant stream of emergency declarations and best practices. 

But Santa Clara County has been in a drought emergency — a serious one — since early July. And it isn’t getting any better.

Here’s what you need to know about the current drought, including what it means for community members and what actions you can take to help.

WHAT IS A DROUGHT, REALLY?

Gary Kremen, a board member of the Santa Clara Valley Water District who represents cities including Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos, said that the current dry cycle not only happened much quicker than previous cycles, but is also more severe.

“For hundreds, if not thousands of years, California has had wet and dry cycles,” Kremen said. “[But] these are the two worst years in recorded California history.”

Kremen cited the previous year’s dry spell as a factor in this severity.

Additionally, in drought times, the prioritization of different types of water usage comes into question and can leave certain uses with less access.

“Should we really reserve 50% of our water for the environment?” Kremen said. “That’s kind of what we always see people are saying. [They’ll ask], ‘Well, why are we allocating it all for the fish — why aren’t we having it for us to drink?’ … It’s very complicated and political.”

DAY-TO-DAY IMPACT

For community members, possible action mainly comes down to knowing what to keep an eye out for.

Examples given by Susan Cordone and Dawn Smithson of the California Water Service include speaking up if a property’s sprinklers are turned on within a couple of days after it rains, or if a neighbor is washing their driveway; these situations fall under Cal Water’s prohibited uses of water.

Other prohibited uses to identify around the community include having water systems that cause runoff off, using a hose for vehicle washing purposes (except when using certain nozzles) and the irrigation of newly constructed properties without drip or micro spray systems. 

“Use your voice to educate people — a lot of people don’t even know,” Smithson said. 

For example, Cordone encourages students to speak up if they notice a leak in school restrooms — “every drop counts” in a time like this.

“Water systems can lose even more than 10% of their water just through leaks,” Smithson said. “When you think of how many millions of millions of gallons are used each day, 10% of that is a lot.”

Household efforts to collect and use greywater (water collected from previous uses like sinks and baths) whenever possible can contribute to conservation — and of course cutting down on household water usage in areas such as showers and dishwashing. As a general rule, handwashing uses much more unnecessary water than dishwashing machines do, so opting for the latter is optimal in drought times.

“It’s up to each and every individual, in my opinion, to take a look at where water is being used in their life, and where we have control of that water use,” Cordone said.

Other actionable measures include removing grass lawns in favor of native plants. In fact, Valley Water’s Landscape Rebates program allows Santa Clara County residents and businesses to qualify for monetary rebates after converting high-water-use landscapes such as lawns and pools to more water-efficient landscapes. 

Water conservation efforts like this are also in conjunction with local and state government restrictions. For example, the City of Mountain View wrote in a statement affirming its support for Gov. Newsom’s request for a 15% usage cutback.

“We work very closely with the local cities, and they will set ordinances and rules in place,” Smithson said. “We support that wholeheartedly.”

“We really want to emphasize the importance of making water conservation a California way of life at all times, regardless of drought or our rain situation,” said Catherine Elvert, utilities communications manager for the City of Palo Alto. “That’s just a smart way to go about living and treating the environment and [water is] such a precious, precious resource.”

The Zone 3 Caltrain stations, ranked

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTOS BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND EMILY YAO

There comes a certain point in a driver’s-licenseless teenager’s life when they desperately don’t want to be chauffeured around by their parents to hang out with friends anymore, and in which they’ve had enough of everything within walking and biking distance. 

This summer, I chose the natural solution, as opposed to, say, taking my permit test or something. I started riding the Caltrain — a lot.

After a couple months of frequenting the nearby stations and what their surrounding downtowns had to offer us, my friends and I started discussing our favorite stations. There were so many factors to think about, and thus a fair share of disagreements.

Realizing that each Caltrain station is unique with different atmospheres and amenities, I formed the next logical thought of ranking them all on a scientifically standardized scale: my opinions. 

Not all of the stations from San Jose to San Francisco, of course — that would be a huge project — just six local ones, classified by Caltrain as Zone 3.

To be honest, I’m not sure what the actual utility of this is; it’s not as if you’re going to start avoiding getting off at your local station because it’s ranked low here. But maybe it can be thought provoking about our perspective on our communities’ public spaces.

Here are six local Caltrain stations, ranked.  

6. San Antonio

IntuitivenessParkingCleanlinessDesignFun factorTotal (–/50)
6486327

The San Antonio station really doesn’t have much immediately around it; it’s an eight minute walk to The Village (a local shopping center with not many stores that pique my interest) and a 10 minute walk to the nearest Target (a good place to roam around in and exit with a multitude of things you didn’t need). 

The station’s parking situation is the next most unideal thing for me to scrutinize. To be clear, I still can’t drive; I forced our editor-in-chief to shuttle us around on this four-hour expedition. Thus it was his attempt at parking that was an entire ordeal.

When we finally crossed the tracks to the only side offering parking, said parking was a block away from the station, which I can imagine being inconvenient for those traveling on a tight schedule.

As for San Antonio’s low intuitiveness score, those wishing to cross to the other platform need to walk all the way down and through a tackily designed, blue- and red-striped underpass on the very end of the station — not very intuitive.

5. Mountain View

IntuitivenessParkingCleanlinessDesignFun factorTotal (–/50)
6957835

Doubling as a transit station with VTA buses definitely knocked down this station’s intuitiveness points, as I can imagine someone attempting to use both transport systems getting off the train and feeling confused about where and how to board their bus. 

The cleanliness of the station was mediocre. As I sat down to feel out different benches, I noticed that some of them were sticky. As I walked up and down the platforms, I noticed stains and discoloration on the concrete pavement. 

On the flip side, my favorite thing about the Mountain View station was its main building. The almost old-timey style of architecture was easy on the eyes and cohesive with the station’s atmosphere. It also provided some nice, shaded seating with a type of bench that I really liked.

Unfortunately, Mountain View also had my absolute least favorite type of benches out of all the stations: there were a multitude of circular black benches with defeated-looking trees in the center. This seating simply didn’t make sense to me, as their circular shape, vertical gaps and inevitable absorption of burning heat during the daytime are probably not appealing to anyone.

To put it simply, I thought I liked the Mountain View station more than I actually do, which is not that much.

4. Palo Alto

IntuitivenessParkingCleanlinessDesignFun factorTotal (–/50)
88471037

Downtown Palo Alto is a thoroughly amazing and fun place, giving the Palo Alto station an automatic 10/10 on the fun factor scale. My most frequently visited stores there include Bell’s Books and Kung Fu Tea, but there’s guaranteed to be something for everyone from restaurants to retail stores to cafes.

However, the Palo Alto station definitely lacked cleanliness. Its main underpass is dark, damp and dingy with offensive smells every few steps you take. There were spills and stains on the platform grounds, as well as bottles and cans littered on the train tracks. We even noticed a pile of shattered glass beneath one bench that seemed to have come from the map poster above it being punched.

The style of the two main buildings had an almost retro theme that is somewhat fitting for a train station atmosphere. They weren’t the most visually appealing; somewhere in my messily scribbled notes, I stated that “at least the buildings have a design.”

3. California Ave.

IntuitivenessParkingCleanlinessDesignFun factorTotal (–/50)
78851038

The California Ave. station has absolutely nothing to its design element. The lengthy underpass is all gray, with concrete and metal handrails — I’d almost take the blue- and red-tiled San Antonio one over that. It almost seems like a hallway in some sort of cheap-budget dystopian film.

There’s absolutely no color at the station, and the only structure is short, almost colonial, offering the only bit of shade on the platform to visitors. 

The only 10 that California Ave. got out of me was its fun factor, being one of my favorite places in Palo Alto to frequent (my go-tos are Backyard Brew, Vitality Bowl, Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels, among others). The Sunday farmers’ market is even held there every week, meaning you could potentially take the Caltrain there from out of town in the morning.

Despite California Ave. being my home station, I realized as I was pacing around with a notebook and the intention of scrutinizing everything that overall, it’s not that great of a train station. The only reason why it’s standing in the top three of my ranking is the significantly bad parking, intuitiveness and cleanliness of other stations, not its own greatness.

It’s also worthy to note that it was at this station where Caltrain employees noticed us taking pictures of the arriving train and told us what “foamers” were — but that didn’t affect my ratings.

2. Sunnyvale

IntuitivenessParkingCleanlinessDesignFun factorTotal (–/50)
91079641

As the opposite of what happened with Mountain View, I thought I liked the Sunnyvale station less going into this than I actually ended up liking it, which was enough for the station to be our overall runner-up.

Parking was the station’s biggest strength, with an actual shaded, multi-level parking structure dedicated to Caltrain patrons right next to it, as well as a very spacious open lot right in front. There was even ample bike parking in the shade.

I appreciated the large arch that provided shade and public seating; there were rows of strong wooden benches, though they were weirdly tall and perpendicular — I made it clear on the car ride away from Sunnyvale that the ideal bench angle lies somewhere in the middle of 90 and 180 degrees (I didn’t have a protractor on hand).

Everything in this area was cohesive in design, coming down to the special payphone stands.

The station itself was very intuitive as well, placing the ticket booths in plain sight upon entrance and a simple crosswalk as opposed to an underpass to access each side.

1. Menlo Park

IntuitivenessParkingCleanlinessDesignFun factorTotal (–/50)
1087101045

Menlo Park is the best Zone 3 Caltrain station for its excellent intuitiveness, design and fun factor.

It features not only one, but two crosswalks on either side; the significance of this is ensuring that riders can easily and quickly access each side without having to sprint down the platform and through an underpass in their professional work outfits each morning.

The station is also lined up and down with tall, green trees. Its main building, which is accented with yellow and white, even has a beautiful clock tower — an amazing traditional style touch for a train station. Whoever sat down to design the station even went as far as to pick rusty red block pavement instead of gray slabs of concrete like most other stations.

Needless to say, from the smallest details to the station’s overall atmosphere, Menlo Park is the superior Zone 3 Caltrain station.