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.”
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.”
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday recommended that even fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings in counties with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission.
Over 63% of counties nationwide currently fall under this category, including Santa Clara County.
The California Department of Public Health issued a similar recommendation — not mandate — on Wednesday.
The recommendation is a direct response to the highly transmissible Delta variant, which has been in wide circulation and currently makes up around 83% of analyzed COVID-19 cases across the country; the state of California has seen a similar trend with the highly transmissible variant.
The CDC emphasized the recommendation to those at increased risk for COVID-19, those with household members with increased risk or those with unvaccinated household members.
Similarly, the CDC also reversed its previous stance on masks for schools; it now recommends indoor masking for all school staff and students regardless of vaccination status.
In practice, the CDC’s changing guidance won’t immediately mean anything for Santa Clara County; the California Department of Public Health has already mandated that students in California, regardless of vaccination status, must wear masks until early November at the earliest.
And, Santa Clara County — along with seven other Bay Area counties — has already once again recommended that residents wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status, and urged businesses to reinstate universal mask mandates.
The CDC’s guidance should, however, lend itself to bolstering the credibility of local orders, and possibly back county officials should they decide to reinstate a universal masking mandate, as opposed to the less strict recommendation that currently stands.
The Palo Alto Unified School District will offer students a fully remote learning program for the 2021–2022 school year.
While all students are expected to attend in-person instruction in the fall, PAUSD’s new Remote Independent Study (RIS) program — introduced to district parents and guardians in a July 20 email — is intended for students and families who believe their health would be compromised in returning to campus.
The program will consist of “weekly synchronous instruction” for its high school participants. According to the email, these students “may likely not be taught by a PAUSD teacher,” as PAUSD plans to make use of a third-party education provider.
Otherwise offered programs like language immersion will not be available to RIS students, and high school Advanced Placement and honors courses “may be limited or non-existent.” The district is still reviewing whether or not RIS students will be prohibited from school affiliated extracurriculars like athletics.
If necessary, RIS students will be allowed to return to a district school within five days of their request to do so.
“Every effort will be made to return students to the home school pending space availability,” the district wrote in the email. “If space is not available, the student will be considered for another school selected by the district.”
As for in-person students in the fall, a mask requirement will take place indoors regardless of vaccination status, per the California Department of Public Health. However, face coverings will not be required outdoors, and social distancing will not be enforced on campus.
As a preliminary gauge of community interest of the RIS program, a non-binding interest form was sent out to the community. A final version will be sent within the next two weeks.
Browsing through the ceiling-length shelves of Bell’s Books feels like opening a box of historical treasures; the variety of books a customer encounters might include first edition Steinbeck or Twain novels, an early grimoire (book of spells) once considered effective in summoning angels or a collection of Pablo Picasso artwork signed by the renowned 20th-century artist.
Throughout 86 years of operation, Bell’s Books has evolved from its beginnings as a college textbook shop to the new, used and rare bookstore it is today. Today, Faith Bell is Bell’s Books’ second generation owner.
While the store orders new books from publishers in response to consumer demand, Bell said that she has always specialized in stocking used and rare collectibles.
“Our love is really with the antiquarian books,” she said. “We always like to find unusual or unique or rare material in unusual topics. The joy is in finding things that people haven’t seen before.”
Bell defines truly rare books as “ones that you simply find, almost never,” using the word “rare” sparingly and opting for “scarce” a majority of the time. Books can be truly rare, she said, for factors like their beauty or limited number.
Bell’s Books is also sometimes interested in provenance — the identity of a book’s previous owner — whether this is a notable individual or an interesting, anecdotal one; one example is the subject of English folk song “Bobby Shafto’s Gone to Sea.”
“I have a book that belonged to the real Bobby Shafto with his bookplate in it,” Bell said. “I came across his bookplate and went ‘Oh my gosh! It is, it’s the real one!’ Because it has his manor house, and where it was and the time period’s right. So it’s funny, the little things like that.”
The process of collecting and selling used books starts with a phone call, in which a Bell’s Books staff member questions the potential seller about their collection’s genres, size and condition. With this relative understanding, Bell’s Books staff arrive wherever the books are stored, curate a selection and make an offer.
“I have to figure out which [books] are likely to go quickly, in which case I can pay well for them, or which of them are still going to be sitting in my warehouse years from now,” Bell said.
Many staff members are knowledgeable in their unique intellectual fields — whether something like philosophy or true crime — which assists Bell in book-buying. At any given time, thousands of boxed-up books in the employees-only back of the store are in the process of being cleaned, researched and priced after purchase.
“One of the things that makes this area interesting is that there are more people per capita with multiple advanced degrees in this county than there are anywhere else in the world,” Bell said. “So, it means that people with very specialized interests have fascinating libraries and we’re able to access those.”
Despite the growing digitalization of books, Bell is firm in the opinion that print books hold great value to their readers. However, she noted that libraries of Stanford professors she used to visit were much more vast before the popularization of digital books.
“Call me a Luddite, but I think having access to information that doesn’t require electronic devices is important,” Bell said.
For Bell, her family and staff, the feeling of looking up at walls of books and knowing they are all “waiting for you whenever you want,” simply can’t be replaced by e-books.
“I very much enjoy the physical book,” Bell said. “The aspect of paper and binding, typography, ink. And that’s something I really love to share with people. Putting together … the right books with the right people, is a lifelong goal and joy, and I’d say that all my staff share that as the dominant force in their lives.”
Bell’s Books is open in downtown Palo Alto every day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 536 Emerson Street.
The Palo Alto Unified School District approved its 2021–2024 Local Control Accountability Plan, a goal setting and planning tool required for educational agencies in California at Tuesday’s board meeting.
Key highlights of this three-year LCAP include goals for early literacy, equity, additional social-emotional development support, wellness and home-school connection. Specific steps in order to achieve these goals are also outlined, which include training elementary teachers in teaching phonics, expanded summer school programs and providing devices and hotspots to families.
The plans were initially introduced and given a public hearing at a June 8 board meeting along with district staff’s annual LCAP update for 2019–2020.
Along with the LCAP, Assistant Superintendent Yolanda Conaway announced structural reorganization of the Department of Equity and Student Affairs, which focuses on the experiences of historically underrepresented students in the district.
The department was established by Superintendent Don Austin in 2019, and now plans to reorganize in order to avoid “duplicative efforts around student support.” “This allows us to look at student services through the lens of equity,” Conaway said. “And it also allows us to really be creative and innovative about some of those initiatives that will be coming out of the department. So in the future, you will be hearing lots about mental health, a lot about attendance.”
The State of California this week underwent its full economic reopening, lifting major COVID-19 restrictions that have long been the norm for the past year.
But despite the changes on paper, many in Downtown Mountain View haven’t noticed any immediate change.
“To be honest, it looks the same as it normally is,” Ben, a Crepevine employee said.
He cited outdoor seating on Castro St. as a factor in keeping restaurants like Crepevine busy throughout the pandemic, allowing for the hustle and bustle of pedestrians and diners on the street since last summer. The restaurant noticed little-to-no impact in the days following the state reopening, because the flow of customers was essentially the same.
And while the state has rolled back restrictions, private businesses are still free to mandate masking and social distancing, which some businesses like Books Inc. have opted for by continuing to require masks upon entrance. The bookstore did remove sneeze guards from the countertops of the registers, and an employee predicted that mask usage will become more open-ended in the future.
Jericho, who works at Gelato Classico, noted the same effect of outdoor seating as observed at Crepevine. Customers at the gelato shop — which was hit heavily in the early pandemic — had “gradually increased because [of] outdoor dining” until the store bounced back.
Like Crepevine, Gelato Classico’s minimal adjustment in response to the state reopening included updating employees on mask policy which now stipulates that while employees must continue to wear them, they no longer have to enforce a mask usage on customers.
But that hasn’t changed much.
“I haven’t seen a lot of people who are going inside without a mask … so I don’t see any changes,” Jericho said.
Palo Alto and Gunn high schools are set to welcome three new assistant principals next year, which include Paly science teacher Erik Olah; San Jose Unified School District Assistant Principal LaDonna Butler; and Gunn Education Specialist Courtney Carlomagno.
Assistant principals at the high school level are responsible for providing leadership in curriculum, instruction guidance, facilities management and support services. The appointments were approved at a May 11 board meeting, and will become effective July 1.
Olah has worked for the district since 2008, and currently holds the positions of teacher, science instructional lead and Western Association of Schools and Colleges teacher on special assignment. Butler — a high school assistant principal at San Jose Unified and high school teacher of 13 years — will also take on the position of assistant principal at Paly.
Gunn has appointed Carlomagno to one of its four assistant principal positions. Carlomagno’s decade-long career in the district began as an instructional aide in the school’s special education program, where she “fell in love with working with high school students” before receiving credentials to become a teacher.
“As a teacher at Gunn, I became very involved,” Carlomagno said in an interview. “Even though I was in special ed, I was very much interested in what we could do for the whole student body to better support them.”
Carlomagno is interested in the issue of equity in Palo Alto Unified schools, and has worked on projects from helping form a student equity committee at Gunn to working with both district and city officials in creating the Palo Alto Equity Challenge.
“What I’m hoping to do as a formal member of the admin team is I really want to bring all the lenses I have from all my experience … [and] make sure that when we are making plans and making decisions for students and staff, that we’re taking into account all the different types of experiences here and really making sure everything is accessible for every student,” Carlomagno said.
At the time of publication, the Post was unable to reach Olah and Butler for comment.
Most students probably view the poetry unit in English class as just another midday nap opportunity. But while her classmates were dozing off, this is where Jasmine Kapadia fell in love with poetry as a first grader — and since then, her poems and slam poetry performances have attracted audiences ranging from fellow Palo Alto High School students to Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai.
Yousafzai was one of numerous influential leaders who nominated one individual they were inspired by on an Asian American Pacific Islander Inspiration List created by “Good Morning America” — and she chose Kapadia.
The Paly junior said she feels that slam poetry, a type of poetry that is composed for live performance, has given her the creative freedom to explore her favorite themes of what it means to be Asian American and allows poets like her to be “angrier” with language.
“The very first slam poem that I wrote was about this grappling between cultures and figuring out where I landed,” Kapadia said. “Since then, I’ve become much more comfortable in my culture with directly doing very Asian cultural things, whether that’s just straight up going into Mandarin in the middle of a poem, or whether it’s more subtle.”
Coming from a mixed Indian and Chinese background, Kapadia most often incorporates her unique cultural identity into her poetic work. Considering that not all of her readers relate to these experiences, she strives to avoid exaggerating their weight.
“It can be a fine line to walk between feeling like you are playing up the diaspora experience or playing up the Asian American experience, and being true to you,” Kapadia said. “Something I’ve had to figure out is, how much do I want to portray the Asian American experience? And how can I portray it without sort of commodifying trauma?”
Kapadia’s poem, “photograph of my 奶奶 in her youth,” that won a gold medal from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, is a perfect example of how she has woven her Asian American background within her poems.
The poem was inspired by a photograph of Kapadia’s 奶奶 (grandmother) in her Taiwanese home.
“I was able to tell a beautiful experience about someone that I really, really admire, but also represent my culture,” she said.
Kapadia submitted this poem and many others to a plethora of literary magazines, but despite all her success in doing so, Kapadia said she’s careful not to give in to the competitive nature of writing submissions.
“A lot of teen writers call it ‘the teen writing industrial complex’ because it’s set up on contests and publication,” Kapadia said. “Whenever I publish, there is a sense of that feeling like, ‘Oh, I want to get the next publication. I want to get even more,’ and it’s hard to not compare yourself to other authors’ bios.”
To help her escape these feelings, Kapadia often talks with many of her friends in teen poetry communities that she is active in. Kapadia said that the community is able to “comfort” her through the hardships of being involved with poetry.
Kapadia and other poets who are part of these poetry communities often had to learn about poetry through their own personal endeavors.
As a contemporary poet, Kapadia advocates for the “modernization” of public schools’ creative writing curriculum — she said that reading poetry written by predominantly white authors held her back from realizing her personal literary style.
“We need to be teaching literary magazines, we need to be teaching slam poets,” Kapadia said. “There are so many amazing poets out there that may not be household names, but have words that are so beautiful and really need to be taught.”
Kapadia was lucky enough to find literary magazines and a diverse set of poets through her personal adventures through poetry and said she feels that poetry must be “for everyone,” and that everyone, including her, has a valid voice that is worth listening to.
“I came into more of a personal style,” Kapadia said. “Just in understanding that, as an Asian American, my experiences are worth reading about and that I have value in poetry as well.”
The Palo Alto Unified School District is expanding its summer school program to serve students facing “adverse learning and social-emotional circumstances.”
Funds for the program come from Assembly Bill 86 signed by Governor Newsom in early March, funding expanded learning opportunities grants for districts like PAUSD in serving student groups including low-income students, English learners and foster youth.
According to the final plan presented at last night’s board meeting, PAUSD’s high school program will span six weeks of summer, throughout which credit recovery courses will allow students with insufficient credits to recover two courses per three-week session.
Additionally, “kick-start” courses that come with credit are intended to “help students lighten the regular school year course load,” according to the plans. A variety of uncredited courses not typically offered — from public speaking to Shakespeare and acting workshops — will also be offered.
The final plan outlines around $7.2 million of planned expenditures in order to carry out this expanded program.
The district plans to extend the program to 2022, and says decisions for that “will be determined at a later date and will reflect the needs of the students based upon the coming school year.”