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.”

Los Altos to reopen city facilities in September

STORY BY NAINA SRIVASTAVA, PHOTOS BY ARYA NASIKKAR

Public facilities in Los Altos will reopen for in-person service beginning Sept. 2.

Since Mar. 2020, all city facilities — including City Hall, the Police Department and the Maintenance Service Center — have been closed to the public in adherence with county COVID-19 guidelines, offering services virtually instead of in-person. 

Los Altos’s “Return to In-Person Plan” consists of altered facility hours and new safety protocols that align with COVID-19 guidelines.

The new facility hours are as follows.

  • City hall: Tuesday–Thursday, 7:30 a.m.–12 a.m., 1–4:30 p.m.
  • Police department: Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
  • Maintenance service center: Monday–Friday, 7 a.m.–4 p.m. Closed every other Friday.

“We recognize the pandemic is not over and have taken the appropriate steps to reopen our facilities,” said City Manager Gabriel Engeland in a city press release. “We are eager to serve the community in-person again, and welcome residents back to our facilities safely.”

With increasing concern over the COVID-19 delta variant as in-person services resume, facilities will take proper precautions, including the usage of air purifiers and plexiglass dividers.Visitors will be required to wait outside of facilities until called by staff in order to prevent crowding within the spaces, and facilities will continue to sanitize high-touch surfaces, provide hand sanitizer and enforce social distancing.

To ensure safety, staff will be extensively trained and provided with resources and support. Many practices which have been implemented during the pandemic will remain as options in order to maintain accessibility and flexibility in city services, including filing documents online and meeting with staff virtually.

“It is a requirement inside City facilities that all employees and visitors wear masks and practice physical distancing,” Engeland said. “We will also continue offering online services and virtual appointments to lessen the number of visitors to our facilities.”

The city will continue to monitor the current COVID-19 situation, and newly-implemented measures will be reevaluated after 30 days. 

New Los Altos Community Center to open in October

STORY BY NAINA SRIVASTAVA, PHOTOS BY ARYA NASIKKAR

The highly anticipated Los Altos Community Center is scheduled to open on Oct. 2. 

The 24,500 square foot–center consists of 12 rooms, including a community room, three multipurpose rooms, conference rooms, a dance and fitness room, an arts and crafts room and dedicated rooms for preschoolers, teens and seniors.

“I think it’s been a long time coming that the community, the people in Los Altos have really wanted a new space to gather in,” said Mary Jo Price, the recreation supervisor for the City of Los Altos’ Recreation and Community Services Department.

The space will also feature public art curated by the Los Altos Public Arts Commision and an array of recreational games, including two outdoor bocce ball courts, a play structure and a ping pong table. 

Each room in the community center will be used to host various activities and programming, and all are named after a different tree species, sporting names such as Grand Oak, Manzanita, Sycamore, Juniper and Birch. Larger rooms will have a rental fee, however there will be discounted rates for Los Altos residents.

Environmental sustainability has been a priority throughout the design process of the building, allowing the center to be Leadership and Energy in Environmental Design Gold equivalent. 

“It is all electric, it has 7,500 square feet of solar panels on the roof and those are going to provide 60–90% of the electricity for the building,” Price said. “Everything in the building was created with environmental sustainability in mind, from the shape of the building to where the windows are.”

Representing Los Altos’s rich history has also been important throughout the process. 

“The most exciting thing [is] these two murals that are being painted on the walls of the community center, [which] is going to happen mid-September,” Price said. 

Painted by Morgan Bricca with research and design by Linda Gass, both murals will depict the landscape of Los Altos along Permanente Creek during different time periods, which have been extensively researched by the artist. The first mural will illustrate the landscape of Los Altos during the time which Ohlone inhabited the region, while the second depicts the same area of the creek in 1948, featuring the apricot orchards which once covered Los Altos. 

According to Price, the center’s predecessor, which shared the same location, was originally built in the late 1940s and early 1950s as an elementary school, and was later converted to a community center in the 1970s.

Led by a task force of volunteer Los Altos residents, the pre-planning phase of the community center began in 2017 and lasted two years. Shortly after breaking ground in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic began, which caused a short pause in construction and extended manufacturing delays.

In adherence with COVID-19 guidelines, all visitors will be required to wear masks inside the center. 

“We had hoped to do a big grand opening and just have it be an open house, but we realized that at this moment that isn’t a safe option and we want to make sure that everybody is safe and feels comfortable,” Price said. 

Instead, the opening will be spread over the length of multiple days and only a small group of residents will be permitted to tour initially.

Bocce ball courts and the senior center will be available following the center’s opening, however programming — classes, activities and special events — is expected to begin later in the fall.

“It’ll be exciting that when we’re all ready to do that, in Los Altos, we’ll have this beautiful brand new space,” Price said.

Monday, Aug. 23: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the community center is LEED certified (it’s LEED equivalent) and that it will have a basketball court (it does not). The names of the artists painting the murals have also been added.

New Palo Alto teen clinic offers drop-in, accessible mental health care

STORY BY NAINA SRIVASTAVA, PHOTOS BY ARYA NASIKKAR

Teens in the Palo Alto area now have access to a groundbreaking walk-in mental health clinic, allcove, a newly-opened network of integrated youth mental health centers. Recently launched alongside a location in San Jose, allcove’s Palo Alto location provides free or low-cost walk-in mental health services for youth aged 12 to 25.

allcove — which is run by Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services in collaboration with multiple agencies, including Stanford’s Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing — reimagines how mental health issues in the community are addressed through an approach of early intervention.

This approach diverges from traditional mental health services, specifically targeting a demographic of youth and aiming to prevent the progression of mental health issues as opposed to mainly treating patients with problems of high severity. 

allcove’s opening is the product of years of planning and preparation to bring the unique clinic model, which was inspired by similar programs in Australia, to the United States.

“Having a space for young people, up to 25, which is when many mental health conditions have sort of shown themselves, becomes an important age period to be able to do early intervention for mental health–related issues,” said clinical professor and Associate Chair for Community Engagement Dr. Steven Adelsheim. 

Each allcove clinic offers physical and mental health support through services ranging from advice and treatments regarding physical and sexual health to counseling, support groups and substance use services. Professionals provide both medical and emotional advice and treatment.

Patients may schedule an appointment with their local allcove center in advance or simply walk in, where they can tour the space and team members assist them in determining which services meet their needs. Patients are not required to be accompanied by guardians, although allcove encourages involving supportive family members. 

The majority of services offered by allcove do not require parent or guardian consent, and services which do are disclosed by team members. Visits are always confidential, unless any information shared threatens the safety of the individual or someone else.

Due to its commitment to prevention and early intervention, allcove is designed to be a short-term service, however, allcove centers work with pre-existing mental health programs, such as those in schools and within the community, and refer individuals to long-term services which will meet their specific needs.

“We also want to be able to connect people to other services they might need in the community, whether it’s support for housing, or for more intensive mental health services.” Adelsheim said. “Complex mental health [support] needs to be able to be a place where we can link people to other services and support they want.”

Local youth voices play an integral role in shaping allcove through their involvement in the decision making process. Youth advisory groups, consisting of local teens work alongside experts and have a large influence in determining allcove’s design, atmosphere and the support groups offered, among other aspects.

“What’s really critical is the voice of young people on the development of the services and the name and the design, and the idea that this space is reflective of the voice and needs and wants of the young people of our community,” Adelsheim said.

By creating “an environment designed by and for young people,” Adelsheim said that allcove facilitates a comfortable space for young people to talk about mental health and is able to better assist individuals seeking support within the community.

Through its services, allcove aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, a barrier which often leads to people to neglect their mental health issues, and not seek help until they face a crisis.

“Within many of our cultures and families, there is a lot of stigma around accessing mental health services,” Adelsheim said, “We want to break through that and create comfortable spaces where young people feel okay about going in early.”

According to Adelsheim, more allcove sites within California communities are currently in the works, and allcove hopes that this mental health model spreads beyond the state.

“We’re creating a space where young people are going to walk in and feel more like it’s for them, instead of some typical mental health clinic,” Adelsheim said.

A slice of California: State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria serves locally-sourced passion

STORY BY NAINA SRIVASTAVA, PHOTOS BY ARYA NASIKKAR

Enter a new state of mind: the embodiment of all things California, tossed into the form of a family-owned pizzeria.

Known for its distinct Californian dishes and family-friendly dining experience, State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria embraces the entire founding family’s passions. The Downtown Los Altos restaurant — and Palo Alto counterpart — offer an eclectic array of specialty pies, California brewed beverages and even ‘90s arcade games. 

“This is something that I’m passionate about … I love making pizza, and I love playing pinball, and I love craft beer, and I love local produce and we do all those things,” chef and co-owner Lars Smith said.

Chef and co-owner Lars Smith is pictured in the State of Mind kitchen.

As chef, Smith carefully assembles State of Mind’s frequently changing menu, experimenting with in-season, local produce. The newly available summer menu features some of Smith’s current favorite dishes, including the “Been All Around This World” pizza topped with summer squash and the award-winning “Elotero” pizza, inspired by Mexican street corn.

“I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing every day [with] a menu that never changed,” Smith said. “I love, every three months, having to put out a new menu… It’s just exciting for me.”

The entryway view of State of Mind’s open kitchen is pictured.

Unlike many family-owned restaurants, State of Mind opened a second location, called State of Mind Slice House, located only a half mile away from Smith’s childhood home in Palo Alto.

With almost the entire Smith family being born and raised within the Bay Area, the locality of both sites are significant to the family’s personal connection to the community. 

Opening a family-owned restaurant like State of Mind was a long-held dream for the Smiths, with two generations of restaurant business experience backing them up.

“When my dad started getting close to retirement, he [said] ‘Let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about a family restaurant,’” Smith said.

Nearly every member of Smith’s family helps run State of Mind, whether it be choosing which beverages to serve, hiring or managing finances. Even Smith’s eight-year-old son helps out by building new tables for the restaurant with his grandfather.

To the family, State of Mind isn’t just a restaurant and source of income, but a part of who they are: a way for them to funnel their passions and connect with the community.

“I bring my kids here on my days off and my brother is here playing pinball on his days off,” Smith said. “This place is very authentic to who we are and our experience, and it’s really, really fun to share that with other people.”

Smith is pictured tossing pizza dough.

Smith’s pizza making experience began with a job at Pizza My Heart, which he started a few months after graduating high school. Initially, he intended to use the job as a launching pad to a different kind of career in dining. 

“I had this idea [that] ‘I’m going to do something great and then work for a really fancy restaurant,’” Smith said. 

He attended college and majored in history, but soon returned to the culinary scene. After dipping a toe into the world of fine dining, he found himself drawn back to the more casual, accessible charm of Pizza My Heart.

“I fully embraced it,” Smith said. “I loved it, I worked my way up in the management and corporate structure of the company [and realized] I really like pizza. And I really like wearing a t-shirt and jeans to work,” he said.

Despite the happiness that Smith found at Pizza My Heart, he had other ambitions.

“I always had in the back of my mind, ‘I’m going to do something on my own someday,’… with the goal of owning my own restaurant or food truck catering,” Smith said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that I wanted to do my own thing.”

Fulfilling this dream, Smith established State of Mind with his family members and two former Pizza My Heart co-workers: his wife and his business partner. 

Along with the two co-owners, Smith brought a vision for a more casual environment from Pizza My Heart. He regularly interacts with customers as they bounce between seating, the bar and the arcade.

The possibility of opening a third location, still within the South Bay Area, is something which the co-owners are looking into, following the success of their second restaurant location. 

“We would like to expand thoughtfully and sustainably for us in ways that make sense, [so] that we could still keep the family values we have: treating employees well, highlighting local and seasonal produce,” Smith said.

However, Smith said that the restaurant won’t expand outside of the local region, staying true to State of Mind’s roots and mission to serve the diverse community that they hold close to heart.

“We’ve created a place that’s open for everybody to come,” Smith said. “It’s all about neighborhood and community and celebration.”

State of Mind currently offers indoor dining and a fully open bar and arcade in adherence with county COVID-19 guidelines. You can order online here, visit State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria at 101 Plaza N, Los Altos, CA 94042 or visit State of Mind Slice House at 3850 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306.