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Feature: License Plate Scanners Spotlight: The Rise of the Ukelele Profile: Davies Appliance History: Chase Littlejohn

ISSUE FIFTY SEVEN • MAY • 2020

Living Under

Lockdown

an economy under siege


Your community is our community. And keeping it strong is our priority.

Since 1952, San Mateo Credit Union has been focused on serving the community. From students to seniors, and every stage in between. As today’s social climate changes dramatically, as people shelter in place to safeguard their health and take on evolving roles of caregiver, homeschool teacher and activities director we want you to know we will continue to be here for you. You are important to us and helping you through this time is important to us, so come and talk to us. We are here for you. After all, we are family, and families join together when times get tough.

(650) 363-1725 · smcu.org Redwood City · San Mateo · South San Francisco · Daly City East Palo Alto · North Fair Oaks · Half Moon Bay


L

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR•

Last month Climate went from print to an online edition because of the coronavirus shelter-in-place order. We’d hoped to be back in print again in May—but here we are again. A month ago, there was a lot of fear that hospitals would be overwhelmed with sick and dying patients, but that was based on initial modeling which has turned out to be way off. Social distancing and other measures that have become a part of our daily lives may have prevented those dire forecasts from happening. Thankfully. People have generally accepted an increasing level of restriction and loss of personal freedom during the shutdown, which as of this writing is approaching eight weeks. But there’s been a deepening economic and social impact, and pressure to get back to normal is growing. This month’s issue takes a look at two distinct sectors which have been especially hard hit by the approach taken to address the pandemic—small business and the arts and entertainment community. Their survival is important to all of us, but recovery presents particular challenges and our support will be needed. The coronavirus-related stories about the shutdown’s impact and what they’re doing to stay afloat are on pages 26 and 34. This month’s issue also captures photographically and in the MicroClimate column some of the many ways people in our community have responded to the crisis, from sewing masks to making signs thanking the folks who have kept hospitals and other essential services running. This month’s feature by writer Don Shoecraft takes a look at Automated License Plate Reader technology, which enables law enforcement to collect data that can be used to track stolen cars and other crime-stopping purposes. But what happens to the data they collect, who sees it and who controls it? When does data collection become surveillance, and what does this mean for an individual’s right to privacy? Turn to page 8 to read about this intriguing subject. On a lighter note, check out Scott Dailey’s story on the ukulele boom. It’s a relatively easy instrument to learn to play, which is a big part of its popularity. And during a shelter-in-place there’s no end of time to become a virtuoso. I think it’s heartening also to read the story of Davies Appliance, which is probably Redwood City’s oldest retail business. It’s natural to worry about small businesses surviving downturns like the one we’re in, but it’s reassuring to read that it’s more than possible to come out on the other side and be there for customers. Remember to remember Mom on Mother’s Day. And in June I hope you’ll be able to read Climate in print as well as in our new online flipbook.

Janet McGovern, Editor

May 2020 ·

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TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S •

FEATU RE

Feeding a Terror Database

8 PROFILE

Davies Appliance

16

SPOTLIG HT Ukeleles are Hot

22

COVID19

Small Businesses on Life Support

26 Troupers

36

Not Our First Viral Terror: Polio

40

AROUND TOWN ���������20 MICRO CLIMATE...........30 OPINION.....................32 HISTORY......................44

4 · CLIMATE · May 2020


During this time of crisis, your community matters. Your local businesses, your neighbors, and you.

C L I M AT E •

We are a local non-profit organization. Our core belief is to support those in-need around us. In this unprecedented time, we now offer these virtual free /low-fee services:

· Virtual/phone therapy supporting shelter-in-place needs · · Parent hotline · · Video wellness sessions · · On-site food distribution (Friday) · · Clothing distribution (Wednesday) · Your donations and support MAKE A DIFFERENCE We supplied hundreds of families and over 10,000 pounds of food to the underserved and unemployed during our drive-by food distribution, but did not have enough for everyone. We can’t do it alone and need your support! Donate today! Visit www.onelifecounselingcenter.com (650) 394-5155 This ad was provided as a courtesy of

· CLIMATE ·5 Neighbors May helping2020 neighbors - since 1938


C L I M AT E •

CLIMATE M A G A Z I N E Publisher

S.F. Bay Media Group Editor

A Downtown Redwood City Destination In the heart of the Theatre District Across from Courthouse Square.

Janet McGovern editor@climaterwc.com Creative Director

Jim Kirkland jim@climaterwc.com Contributing Writers

Janet McGovern Don Shoecraft Scott Dailey Jill Singleton Jim Clifford Amourence Lee Photographer

Jim Kirkland Editorial Board

Janet McGovern Jim Kirkland Adam Alberti Advisory Board

Dee Eva Jason Galisatus Connie Guerrero Matt Larsen Dennis Logie Clem Molony Barb Valley CLIMATE magazine is a monthly publication by S.F. Bay Media Group, a California Corporation. Entire contents ©2020 by S.F. Bay Media Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction or use in any manner without permission is strictly prohibited. CLIMATE is not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts or artwork. CLIMATE offices are located at 303 Twin Dolphin Drive, Redwood City, CA 94065. Printed in the U.S.A.

6 · CLIMATE · May 2020

Directory: Arya Steakhouse • Cinemark Century 20 Theatres Chipotle • Cyclismo Cafe • Dignity GoHealth Urgent Care Five Guys Burgers and Fries • Marufuku Ramen (Coming This Spring) Pizza My Heart • Portobello Grill • Powerhouse Gym Elite Silicon FinTech Bay • Sola Salon Studios • The Old Spaghetti Factory Timber & Salt • Vitality Bowls • West Park Farm & Sea • Yoho Frozen Yogurt

Convenient Parking! Parking is Free for the first 1 1/2 hours in the Shops On Broadway Garage on Jefferson (between Broadway and Middlefield). The first 4 hours are free with validation for Theatre patrons. 2107 Broadway Street, Redwood City • shopsonbroadway.com


C L I M AT E •

May 2020 ·

CLIMATE · 7


F E AT U R E •

License Plate Scanners PLATE: 6AXU524

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8 · CLIMATE · May 2020

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F E AT U R E •

Feed A Terror Database Impending explosion in technology heightens tension about privacy

By Don Shoecraft

Drive a major street or park on a public road in San Mateo County and your car's location has been recorded and loaded into a national database where it may be retained for years in case law enforcement needs it, perhaps for a drug case, criminal investigation, or anti-terror intelligence. Or network data may be misused, as cases show that it has. If kept long enough it may represent surveillance, or help push policy in that direction, as anti-terror efforts have done in many countries, Iran, Russia, India, China, North Korea, Turkey among them. The capability locally is managed by an entity of the San Mateo County Sheriff, who is the regional agent for the international war on terror. This anti-terror capability is poised for an explosive local expansion, fueled by a commercial surveillance industry that already faces accusations that it tramples personal privacy in the service of social "disruption." As the result, commercial surveillance technology is dragging law enforcement into new realms where the guarantee of privacy rests upon individual morals and ethics of capitalistic entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, data streams 24 hours a day to a system whose unblinking eyes are Automated License Plate Readers, or ALPRs, both fixed and roving on

police patrol vehicles. They feed a database handled by, among others, Palantir, the software company that reputedly helped kill Osama bin Laden. ALPR input can persist for years in a system where private businesses are paid to gather, store and even resell it. Vigilant Solutions, the county's vendor and the company two-thirds of law enforcement agencies in the state use for ALPR systems, boasts of having 7 billion ALPR records in its inventory — 21 for every human being; 27,000 for every registered vehicle in the country. And Vigilant is only one of many, all of whom can feed the national intelligence network.

May 2020 ·

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• A Right to Privacy The greater the precision with which law enforcement can track a car means increased likelihood it can identify its owner, as well as where that car has been and will be in the future. Regardless of a person's attitude about national security, technically that is a violation of the Constitutional right to privacy. In this county that tracking ability is about to become very precise. The 9/11 attack on America spawned a system of anti-terror "Fusion Centers" established by the Patriot Act of October 2001, before Facebook, years before the first iPhone and many years before the first phone app. Through them local law enforcement was elevated to equal partner with federal agencies such as the FBI, CIA and Department of Homeland Security, in the hope that data sharing would "connect the dots" like those overlooked in the leadup to 9/11. These agencies do not disclose operations and are not inclined to report successes, let alone failures. Consequently, certain activities of local law enforcement were closed to scrutiny. The Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC, pronounced NIK-rik), is the Fusion Center for 11 Northern California counties and is operated through the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department. Fusion Centers are a significant component of the federal government's National Intelligence Strategy. In this county NCRIC is the data collection point for every police department that uses ALPRs. Cities deploy about 15 cameras; the sheriff has 56, some fixed at high traffic areas such as the intersection of Holly Street and Industrial Boulevard, where nine are attached to light poles. Some are mounted on patrol cars, hoovering up the plates of every vehicle they pass. Fusion Centers were grafted onto an information- and data-sharing system

10 · CLIMATE · May 2020

F E AT U R E •

Richard Nixon's War on Drugs established 20 years before, which is why in addition to its anti-terror role NCRIC also is Northern California's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area enforcement agency. Sheriff's Capt. Mike Sena is NCRIC's director and an eminence in national law enforcement. Involved with Fusion Centers for the better part of two decades, he has emerged as a major national figure. He is a member of the U.S. Attorney General's Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative Executive Committee, chair of its Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council and President of the National Association of Fusion Centers. He scoffs at the idea that Fusion Centers could evolve into Orwellian surveil-

The 9/11 attack on America spawned a system of anti-terror "Fusion Centers" established by the Patriot Act of October 2001, before Facebook, years before the first iPhone and many years before the first phone app. lance organs. The reason is not policy. It's logistics. "There are 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country," Sena said, "and there's no way people would agree to share data at that level. It's hard enough getting people to share criminal data. I don't see us going down that route." Crime Prevention Focus Furthermore, gathering data "is not what we do," he added. Stock-in-trade of the 80 staff on its $4 million-plus payroll, he said, is data analysis in response to requests by

authorized law enforcement agencies, developing "pointers," software intelligence, that helps solve or prevent crimes without violating citizens' civil rights. Other particulars can be gleaned from the public record because the conduit for Homeland Security money that finances NCRIC is the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative, a California public agency bound by the state's open meeting law. NCRIC has 10 TLOOPS, officers in its Terrorism Liaison Officer Outreach Program who sift through crime-stopper tips submitted as Suspicious Activity Reports. Anonymous citizens can offer up anything they choose as a Suspicious Activity Report, license plate numbers, names, descriptions, photographs, documents and narrative. TLOOPS followed up on 185 of 962 Suspicious Activity Reports in 2018, the last year NCRIC disclosed the total number, and distributed information to more than 12,000 users. The center provided threat assessments to special events such as conventions, concerts and major sports. In 2018 it trained 1,400 representatives from allied agencies in homeland security, officer safety and narcotics enforcement. It collaborated with the FBI, Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on policy guidance. It worked with social media — "Facebook, Google, Twitter etc." — on "threat-to-life" reporting. Sena emphasizes NCRIC public service: Amber Alerts, Silver Alerts, tracking of sexual predators, gang interdiction, property theft, assaults, murders and many other crimes that make up the gamut of day-to-day law enforcement are its everyday fare. In fact, local law enforcement is the doorway to this world. Fusion Centers and city cops, chiefs and sheriffs are in a symbiotic relationship and ALPRs are critical to it. The locals purchase ALPR systems,


• typically with Homeland Security funds. Locals value them not simply because they're thwarting the next terrorist attack on the nation. They like them because they supposedly help do the obvious: find stolen cars. No one really knows how effective they are. National vehicle thefts average about 3 to 4 percent of crimes. Nationally, four of five stolen cars are never recovered and nine out of 10 vehicle thieves are never arrested. No national statistic shows whether ALPR data played a role in recoveries or arrests, so any information is anecdotal. An unidentified Arizona agency cited in promotional literature said ALPRs boosted recoveries "two or three times." The cost in terms of how many data bits are collected about supposedly innocent citizens for each recovery, however, is massive. A State Audit California State Auditor Elaine Howle examined ALPR methods and policies of 391 California law enforcement agencies in 2018, performing detailed analyses on four — Marin, Sacramento, Fresno and Los Angeles. Her report showed that the Sacramento County Sheriff, responsible for a population of 636,000, collects 1.7 million ALPR images a week, 88 million a year and had 3,337 vehicles stolen. That works out to 26,000 plates collected for every stolen vehicle, or 88 pictures for every car and truck in the county. By comparison, San Mateo County's population is 100,000 larger than Sacramento's but it lost a fifth as many vehicles, 674. If the county's more than 70 ALPRs collect data at anywhere near Sacramento’s rate, 130,000 plates will be scanned per recovered vehicle. ALPRs do more for cops than find thieves. Cops are safer because of them.

F E AT U R E •

An ALPR camera on Brittan and El Camino Real

The Sacramento County Sheriff, responsible for a population of 636,000, collects 1.7 million ALPR images a week, 88 million a year and had 3,337 vehicles stolen. That works out to 26,000 plates collected for every stolen vehicle, or 88 pictures for every car and truck in the county. They know in an instant if a traffic stop involves a vehicle stolen or suspect in a crime. They have more time to work. They don't have to log plates, write them up and type on a computer. But that part of the system is old technology that works outside the Fusion Center. Using the 30-year-old California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, police tag a plate with a crime or incident report and send it to the FBI's Criminal Justice Information System, which adds it to a national "hot list." If they have to make a stop, cops interrogate CJIS before getting out of the car, then verify. But it's only a plate. It's not a person. It's not identification. Who cares? To believe that anonymous data can't identify a person

is to believe the Easter Bunny wears slippers to bed. All it takes is tracking over time to find out where the driver lives, works and travels. That is what criminal analysts do. Having developed an ID, analysts attach phone numbers, addresses, mortgages, criminal history, family and associates, work record, passport information and on and on. Casting into the future they can predict where the individual likely will be, what they will be doing, at what time. But sometimes not even analytics are needed to connect a plate with a person. Mike Katz-Lacabe became a privacy activist after discovering that San Leandro police photographed his car 150 times over two years with mobile ALPR, once capturing a scene of himself and two daughters, in his driveway, getting out of his car. "If you look at ALPR data over a period of time," he said, "you can very easily discern where a person lives, where they work, the people they associate with and — perhaps more important to law enforcement and which has in fact been used by law enforcement — whether they attend a mosque, whether they went to a demonstration, whether they went to a marijuana medical dispensary, whether they went to an abortion clinic. "In California that might not be a big issue, but in some areas of the South, that might be a very big issue. The amount you can tell about a person’s life is potentially incredibly invasive." Keeping Records Analysis doesn't have to be done right away; it can happen years in the future because ALPR images persist. NCRIC is connected to a Regional Information Sharing System that keeps more than 44 million records forever if necessary. State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) took on the data retention issue in 2015, May 2020 ·

CLIMATE · 11


• provoking a battle with police chiefs and sheriffs. He introduced Senate Bill 34 to limit retention of ALPR data to 60 days, but the cop lobby got the language changed to "only as long as necessary" with recommended deletion after 4 1/2 years. He’s still angry. Researching for SB 34, a private investigator tracked the senator’s wife using ALPR data. "Boom, there she was, at the gym," Hill said. He is of the opinion ALPRs are surveillance. "They drive around picking up license plates at a thousand plates a minute or a second or as fast as they can accumulate them. In most cases it's a private company that then sells that data to law enforcement. "If it's not a police state, it will be shortly," Hill said. Vendors like Vigilant Solutions are analytics companies, too. They sell data. While Vigilant may delete ALPR data after as much as six years, its default, it sells analytics based on that data "as long as it has commercial value," according to its privacy policy. Law enforcement argues that collecting data on public roads is not surveillance because it invades no one's privacy, a precept that stems from the legal principal that no person visible in a public place has a reasonable expectation of privacy. A legal challenge to ALPRs has not made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court adjudicated a related issue in 2018: collecting GPS intelligence data from cell phone towers. "A person," the decision said, "does not surrender all (privacy) protections by venturing into the public sphere…With access to (cell‑site location information), the Government can now travel back in time to retrace a person’s whereabouts.” The court also expressed concern that information was being collected on all persons, not only “persons who might happen to come under investigation.” Not yet addressed is whether the gigantic government apparatus that has

12 · CLIMATE · May 2020

F E AT U R E • "more safety" does not necessarily suggest "less privacy" in the public mind.

An ALPR camera on Holly and Industrial.

Law enforcement argues that collecting data on public roads is not surveillance because it invades no one's privacy, a precept that stems from the legal principal that no person visible in a public place has a reasonable expectation of privacy. formed to combat terror should continue to expand and add new eyes, ears, drones, cell phone tracking or technologies yet to be invented or conceived, in the name of law enforcement. Public sentiment seems to be on the side of law enforcement. The desire for

Privacy and Civil Rights Fusion Center privacy policies are extensive. Along with anti-terror training it teaches civil rights and privacy. Sena, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s captain, said privacy and civil rights violations can justify firing. Agencies breaking the rules can be reprimanded or, in the extreme, removed. Such discipline has never occurred at NCRIC. On the other side, the desire to generate as much data as quickly and cheaply as possible is a powerful lure. And some of the new technologies are very attractive. Crime tips and video are free to police from the NextDoor app, subject to a privacy policy that says members can only share information if they specifically say they want to do it and the local police agency says it wants to have it. The ubiquitous "strange man at my front door" reports are staples of NextDoor, where some may overuse its "Forward to Police" button. But the company has rolled out a software app for police. Now cops can rebroadcast video back to the community and get intelligence on their smart phones, a sort of neighborhood watch on steroids. Change also is moving into license plate readers, and quickly. Another phone app lets an officer scan a plate for an instant hot list hit. On the camera side, Garrett Langley of Atlanta, Ga. is blowing up the industry with his company, called Flock Safety. The 35-year-old entrepreneur already is on his second start-up, having sold driveclutch.com to Cox Enterprises for $200 million in 2014. Langley, who had been a victim of property crime, built a better ALPR to not only digitize plates but take high-resolution photographs of the car and its environment, record the make and color,


"I'm just a regular guy that happens to have a degree in electrical engineering, and I ask… what's the kind of world that I want to build and the kind of world I want to encourage and support? I figure that, if I'm comfortable with it, then I would expect that many other people will be comfortable with it." when and where it was last seen, and ship the data to the customer. Flock Safety then links it to the FBI's CJIS and pings a hot list hit. It's virtually an instant analyst. Data Deleted According to its policy, Flock Safety protects privacy because there is no expectation of privacy on public roads, the buyer owns the footage and it is used only to help police solve crime. Lastly, the data, which is stored by Amazon Web Services, deletes every 30 days. If no crime, no data ever existed, Langley said. Atherton Chief of Police Steve McCulley said that could be a deal-breaker. Atherton wants the data for a year, which it interprets as state law. What motivates Langley is his personal moral code. "We try to ask those ethical questions," he said. "None of us came from law enforcement. I'm just a regular guy that happens to have a degree in electrical engineering, and I ask…what's the kind of world that I want to build and the kind of world I want to encourage and support? I

F E AT U R E •

figure that, if I'm comfortable with it, then I would expect that many other people will be comfortable with it." What he sells in reality is a system costing $2,000 per camera that does much more than legacy ALPR systems that cost millions. A legacy system doesn't include maintenance, updates or data storage, which can add hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Flock does it for free. "I wanted to build something better," Langley said. "Under current pricing it was really a luxury item and not a commodity and we wanted to democratize everyone's ability to stay safe." Flock buyers have been homeowners' associations and businesses wanting to monitor private roads and parking lots. The cameras pipe a feed to an administrator, who could be anyone, including a member of a homeowners' association, some of whom set up security monitors in their garages. Flock counsels against doing it, but nothing prevents administrators from watching who went where, when. Of course they did, even boasting about it in testimonials Flock posted to its website. "Oh yeah, we know about Flock," Sena said. "They've been active across the country for the last nine months." How to accommodate Flock is only partly in his universe. He must adapt. As the locals go, so goes he. Adding Cameras The Town of Atherton, population 6,900, is the first in the county to be ready to buy Flock and up to 25 cameras. That would be a big increase in its present inventory of three. Two more of the 13 law enforcement agencies in the county probably will follow. Daly City, population 100,000, and Foster City, population 30,500, are talking with Atherton. The 70 cameras now out there may soon increase by scores. Should Atherton buy the full Flock its data gathering capability will increase by

a factor of five, meaning five times more precise information about what plate was where, when and where it's likely to be. Multiplied across San Mateo County the vast new pool of ALPR data will translate to much more precise knowledge about a car’s, and potentially an owner’s, whereabouts in the past and in the future. Langley talked about that phenomenon when he expressed dismay about California, where "ALPRs are poorly implemented and poorly distributed. You have some of the most affluent communities in the Bay Area and they have less cameras than we have in our neighborhoods." He has the right to be derisive. His hometown has the honor of being the 10th most surveilled city in the world, with 7,800 public cameras in service, or more than 15 for every 1,000 citizens, not including private cameras in places like liquor stores and shopping malls. Atlanta is even ahead of Moscow, at only 12 cameras per 1,000. Only one other Western city, London, at number six with 627,000 cameras, outranks Atlanta. All the rest are in China, which expects to have 626 million cameras in operation

The Town of Atherton, population 6,900, is the first in the county to be ready to buy Flock and up to 25 cameras. That would be a big increase in its present inventory of three. Two more of the 13 law enforcement agencies in the county probably will follow.

May 2020 ·

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• this year and is on the path toward a goal of two public cameras for every person in the country. Number one is Chongqing, with 2.5 million cameras for 15 million people, referenced here because Chongqing resident Sarah Wang exquisitely summed up surveillance ambivalence: “Even if it makes me feel a bit disgusted, that feeling still can’t overcome my strong wish to find out who stole my phone in public,” she said. It is hard to be optimistic about privacy considering how poor the record has been found to be on both sides of the operation, the ALPR system and the Fusion Center system. Granting that police and sheriff's departments try their best to be their legal best, it is difficult to be as good as one thinks one ought to be.

The auditor cited an Associated Press two-year investigation that found 325 officers who were fired and another 250 who were reprimanded or disciplined for misuse of ALPR data. The California Highway Patrol investigated 11 cases of database abuse in 2018, three involving officers improperly looking up information on license plates without a need to know.

14 · CLIMATE · May 2020

F E AT U R E •

Three Keys Confidence in the system depends on three things: the legitimacy of the people who access data, whether audit systems are in place to catch anyone misusing it, and whether data is destroyed when no longer of value to an investigation. Regarding legitimacy, the state auditor turned up the appalling instance of the 18,000-member Los Angeles Police Department, where access to the ALPR system was automatically installed on every computer in the department, regardless of the job of the user. Contrary to state law, three of the audited police departments were sharing ALPR data with Immigration and Customs Enforcement — and didn't know it. In San Mateo County 800 of 1,665 law enforcement employees have access to ALPR data. Statewide the number is in the tens of thousands. NCRIC has more than 20,000 authorized users. Without identifying individuals, the auditor found fired cops who still had user access weeks after being kicked off the job. Since the system is web-based — remember the app that lets police scan a plate with a phone? — these former officers could check plates from anywhere. The auditor cited an Associated Press two-year investigation that found 325 officers who were fired and another 250 who were reprimanded or disciplined for misuse of ALPR data. The California Highway Patrol investigated 11 cases of database abuse in 2018, three involving officers improperly looking up information on license plates without a need to know. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter. Most departments have policies to audit user access but they never perform audits, therefore making it impossible to identify misuse. Though most ALPR data is accessed within 30 days for criminal cases, most keep it for a year, some for five.

"There are really no rules around (the data)…These agencies just do whatever they want with the data. They can retain it as long as they want. They can give it out to other agencies around the country. There’re no constraints." And they do give it out. Sen. Hill may get his wish yet. The auditor recommended that state law be changed to specify a maximum retention period, and State Sen. Scott Wiener, who requested the audit, is preparing another bill. "There are really no rules around (the data)," Weiner said. "…These agencies just do whatever they want with the data. They can retain it as long as they want. They can give it out to other agencies around the country. There’re no constraints." And they do give it out. Sharing Data The system's value is in tracking plates wherever they are. Criminals with cars do travel, consequently 84 percent of California agencies share their ALPR data. If ultimately it ends up being shared with Marin, Sacramento or Fresno, which appears to be a virtual certainty, it will be shared with at least 2,655 agencies in 49 states, among them the Honolulu Police Department. And those agencies share. It's a concern for Redwood City, then, that a police sergeant in Ohio pled guilty to using ALPR data to stalk his ex-girlfriend,


• her mother, all her male friends and all of the college students she taught. Fusion Centers fared little better the one time the U.S. Senate cracked them open in 2009, when Sens. Tom Coburn's and Carl Levin's Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs probed them. Among embarrassing disclosures were the facts that the Department of Homeland Security did not know how much it spent on Fusion Centers and actually thought it had more centers than it did. Four were "not operational" and a fifth, in Wyoming, was counted, but its one agent was no longer in the state. Less amusing was this conclusion: "DHS did not adequately train personnel it sent out to perform the extremely sensitive task of reporting information about U.S. persons – a job fraught with the possibility of running afoul of Privacy Act protections

F E AT U R E •

of individuals’ rights to associate, worship, speak, and protest without being spied on by their own government." Presumably things have improved since 2010. Capt. Sena's NCRIC should be a model, in view of his national profile and influence. "We don't know what the technology of tomorrow is going to look like" he said. “Technology evolves very quickly. But we have to adapt policies of how we use data responsibly so that people understand the rules of the road. That's why we started looking into especially how newer technologies are coming out and how we effectively use those and first and foremost protect the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and all of the privacy, civil rights and civil liberties considerations that we've built over the last 60 to 70 years in America."

Speaking of rules of the road, while the Fusion Center and law enforcement find themselves continually in this dance between ALPRs and privacy protection, the big-volume data collectors don't. The toll authority monitoring 138 million vehicles a year on the seven San Francisco Bay bridges only scans the plates of cash lanes and toll violators, with 154 cameras to keep track. The California Highway Patrol has no fixed units, but its 121 mobile ALPRs log 4 million miles a year, scanning as they go. Neither shares data, not with law enforcement, not with NCRIC, not with any of the six other Fusion Centers in the state. They're bound by the Streets and Highways Code and the Vehicle Code. They respect personal privacy. C

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May 2020 ·

CLIMATE · 15


PROFILE•

Virginia and Joe Biddle with grandson Chris Chambers, who is president of family-owned Davies Appliance.

Al Davies

16 · CLIMATE · May 2020


PROFILE•

Davies Appliance: Shutdown Puts Long-time Family Business to the Test

By Janet McGovern

After the shelter-in-place bomb dropped on local businesses in March, Chris Chambers wondered whether his would be considered “essential” and could stay open. “I was very worried when I first heard,” the 34-year-old president of the 86-year-old family business called Davies Appliance recalls. “I didn’t understand what essential was for sure, and the more we were open, the more we realized that we are an essential business.” Right off the bat, local hospitals ordered extra refrigerators. The fire department needed laundry appliances. “And the panic buyers and the people who just bought $500 worth of food from Costco—and the refrigerator died,” Chambers says. “I mean what are they going to do?” Since the beginning of the coronavirus shutdown, Davies Appliance has managed to stay open, albeit by appointment only, in an almost a speakeasy style. Overall sales are down 30 to 40 percent from last year. The shock to the system is completely new to Chambers, but it has an ironic parallel in family his-

tory. His great-grandfather—the pugnacious scrapper who for decades ran “EZ” Davies Chevrolet—came through World War II as an essential business too. Al Davies had been delayed getting his new dealership building at 1101 El Camino Real (where Sequoia Station is today) completed, and when it finally opened in January 1942, war had just been declared after the attack on Pearl Harbor the month before. Detroit automakers were marshalled into the all-consuming war effort and built everything from tanks to torpedoes. Al and his brother Tom had a May 2020 ·

CLIMATE · 17


• heavy investment on the line, and it became difficult to obtain new cars. So Davies Chevrolet became a Firestone dealer, selling Firestone tires and sparkplugs and Firestone “phonoradios.” Firestone bikes and Firestone washing machines. And other brands of stoves and fishing gear, and table tennis sets, kitchen mixers, golf clubs and footballs. “About anything that they could get their hands on,” says Virginia Biddle, 85, the oldest of four daughters. She and her husband Joe, 86, own Davies Appliance and are delighted that their grandson picked up the torch and is carrying on a business that has been essential to the family’s identity. And perhaps Redwood City’s as well. Davies Appliance likely is the oldest retailer in the city, but the company’s roots go all the way back to 1916, when Al Davies’ older brother, Ed, started an auto repair shop on the corner of Vera Avenue and El Camino. Six years later, the expert auto mechanic turned Davies Auto Co. over to brothers Al and Tom. They first sold Willys-Overland cars, but in 1932 became a Chervolet dealership. Enter Frigidaire In 1934, General Motors bought the Frigidaire company and asked some of the Chevy dealers to display refrigerators on their showroom floors, Virginia Biddle says. The company started making washers and dryers and eventually appliances began to crowd out the showroom cars. So Al Davies bought the building at 1580 El Camino, where Davies Appliance is today, and it became a separate business. Over many years, Al Davies became the unofficial “king” of El Camino Real. He regularly spoke up at City Council meetings and turned his howitzer vocabulary on city staff. (He called one city planner “a donkey. I told him to his face.”) Impervious to other people’s opinions and endowed with a caustic wit, Al Davies ridiculed the downtown revamp of the 1970s with its

18 · CLIMATE · May 2020

PROFILE•

The first Davies shop circa 1916 at Vera Avenue and El Camino.

old-fashioned streetlights. They brought “twilight hour to Broadway,” he told the City Council. “(They’re the) rest-in-peace ones sitting out there waiting to turn it into a beautiful corridor that you can’t see there unless it’s daytime.” And that old maxim “the customer is always right?” Not to Al Davies. If a customer announced that he wasn’t going to pay a bill, Biddle says, his father-in-law would respond, “Well if you don’t, I’ll knock you out.” And Al Davies was fully prepared to take the billing dispute resolution “outside.” He had been an entrepreneur all his life, starting with selling newspapers on the street corner in San Francisco at the age of eight. Work was all he had ever known and his business meant everything to him. “I almost went broke a couple of times,” he told a reporter in 1980. “But that just toughens you up.” “He was down there (the dealership) every morning at 8 o’clock,” Virginia Biddle says. “And he was home for dinner promptly at 6 o’clock. Dinner had to be on the table because dad has to get back down to the garage as soon as he finished dinner, and he closed up at 9 o’clock.” He was a man of strong convictions. A graduate of Sequoia High School, Al Davies had friends among the Japanese-Americans who had nursery businesses before World War II; he’d sold them cars. When they went to internment camps, he stored their cars for them. “And after the war, they all got their

cars back,” Virginia Biddle says. Washed, polished and with a full tank of gas. “That was one thing they still had. They had lost practically everything else.” He was a member of the Exchange Club, whose constitution allowed only white males to join. When his Japanese-American friends were denied, Al Davies quit and joined the Kiwanis Club. Sundays on the Bay His single hobby was sailing a fast boat on San Francisco Bay, with his “harem crew” of daughters Virginia, Sandy, Joan and Gayle and his wife aboard. “Besides sailing, business was his everything,” Virginia says. “I mean he ate business, he thought business, he lived for his business.” The appliance side of the Davies enterprise hadn’t been profitable so Al Davies asked his son-in-law to take it on. A San Jose State College graduate who had worked at Ampex Corp., Joe Biddle began to incorporate more high-end product lines, such as SubZero and Wolf, to expand market reach. “We brought it around in a couple of years to make it very successful and he was thrilled about that,” Joe says. Davies Appliance today offers a range of product lines, from basic refrigerators and washers and dryers to the ultra-high end, including $50,000 ranges, professional-level pizza ovens, outdoor beer dispensers, coffee systems, wine coolers and barbecues. Davies Appliance was able to compete with chain stores like Sears and Best Buy on price by joining a group in the


C L I M AT E •

(Reg McGovern photo courtesy of Janet McGovern)

Pictured in 1965, EZ Davies Chevrolet's dealership at 1101 El Camino Real opened in Janu- Davies Chevrolet was a sponsor of a popular soapbox derby race competiary 1942 with a gala "family party" theme. The celebration featured an orchestra and danc- tion in the late 1940s. Al Davies is pictured here in 1949 with two of the ing, movies, vocalists and free corsages for all the women. winners. (Reg McGovern photo courtesy of Janet McGovern)

early 1970s to buy from manufacturers in quantity. The buying group started with three members, according to Joe, and now numbers about 2,300. When Al Davies sold his former dealership in 1990, he still needed an office to go to every day, so the Biddles, who had bought the appliance business from him in 1970, built him one there. “The last time he came was three days before he died,” Virginia says. Her father had sinus cancer and passed away in 1997 at the age of 92. A Survivor The automobile company had survived the Great Depression and come through World War II. Together with the appliance business, the family concerns have weathered good times and bad, including Joe Biddle’s greatest challenge, a major recession in the 1980s. “It was hard to break even but we got through it all right,” he says. That period was “just a slow dip and we climbed back out of it.” Chris Chambers grew up in the East Bay, went to college on a baseball scholarship and was playing semi-pro in Canada when Grandfather Joe called out of the blue in 2008 to ask if he’d like a job at the store. Chambers gave it a try, went back to

baseball briefly but eventually returned to the family business. His wife, Kelsey, did fulltime bookkeeping until they began to have children. Chris’s brother, Jeff Chambers, handles accounts receivables and stepbrother Cody Lowenstein works in sales. Virginia’s sisters own the building. Chris Chambers was surprised how much there was to learn—the brands, thousands of model numbers and sizes. “It takes a while to learn what will fit in each person’s home correctly,” he says, “cause if you do that wrong, there’s going to be major issues.” A business owner also has the challenge of doing what’s best for the store. A salesman might benefit, for example, by offering free delivery and installation. But that impacts a store’s bottom line. The company sells a lot of Frigidaires—along with an array of luxury appliances with the latest in wi-fi connectivity. Stainless steel remains far and away the most popular finish, but consumers are also going for flush wood panel doors, as well as custom-color range hoods. During the shutdown, Davies Appliance has been upgrading its SubZero display area. About five years ago, Chris Chambers implemented a no-commission policy; sales-

men receive a salary plus a possible bonus. Tension is reduced in that environment, he believes, and customers get good service, whether or not “their salesman” is helping them. Davies Appliance has 13 employees; several have worked there for decades. “We’re small enough that we don’t have a ton of employees, and are able to take care of them and give them a good living.” Davies Appliance has been surviving the absence of foot traffic in part thanks to builder and property management accounts, some as far away as Lake Tahoe, who are still placing orders. Chris Chambers looks forward to reopening but worries about how soon customers will feel comfortable being in stores. If Davies Appliance hadn’t been deemed essential, surviving would be a lot harder, he says, but Chambers recognized that a downturn was always possible and tried to prepare with a financial cushion. “I have a lot of pride in being family-owned and us being here for four generations,” Chris Chambers says. “That’s very rare. And I know that if something were to happen, it would look bad on me and I just want to make sure to do my best to keep the family name going in this area.” C May 2020 ·

CLIMATE · 19


AROUND TOWN •

Dealing With Staying in Place Climate reached out to a few local people to find out how they were dealing with "Stay at Home" orders. Left: Redwood City Councilwoman Giselle Hale's two daughter's, Vivienne, 3, and Lucretia, 6, spent time being home schooled and baking.

Left: Brady Danes, 8 made Easter crosses which were shared with vulnerable and homebound church members out of palms for Palm Sunday. Below: Brady and his mom, Jeri, with drawings of Easter bunnies they made together. Right: Lucy Kern kept busy by making a YouTube channel. It’s called “Lucy Does It All”. On it she does crafts, challenges, kids workouts and more. Here’s a link to her newest video called Lucy Does The Chalk Challenge. https://youtu. be/8S_scnbJy7o

Left: Hailey LaTorra, 8, and sister Katie, 10, tried to do a fun, creative activity each day. Sometimes they work on art projects using paint, chalk and markers, or build with LEGOS and do STEAM projects.

Right: Sam Macy and Madeleine Graham play music on their front porch while Madeleine's mother, Jean Doten, adds to the ensemble from the safe distance of her car parked on the street.

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AROUND TOWN•

Left: Diane Rezendes and her husband Joe Khirallah wanted to bring a smile while spreading the word to people during this difficult season. So they came up with a message banner featuring Little Papi (named after retired Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, aka Big Papi). The couple have brought the banner to Mid Peninsula Animal Hospital, police headquarters and Sequoia Hospital.

Below: Charlie Lochtefeld, owner/operator of Club Fox, has found solace in jigsaw puzzles. A lot of them. Lochtefeld even made a new friend he calls "Barky."

Right: Among the many who have found ways to be neighborly during the shutdown were Mike and Julie Markwith of Redwood City. They spent time before Easter— and on Easter Sunday, which was also their 45th wedding anniversary— weeding the front yard of Frances Aragon, their 105-year-old neighbor. Her daughter, Marian Wydo, posted this sign to thank the Markwiths.

Teresa Garcia, the better half of Ralph’s Vacuum & Sewing, got into the Easter mood.

Councilwoman Janet Borgens, a beautician when not volunteering or serving on the Redwood City Council, had a wig parade.

Alexis "Lexi" Allen had to celebrate her 10th birthday with family only. But her grandparents made sure the occasion was properly marked.

May 2020 ·

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SPOTLIGHT •

Members of the Peninsula Ukelele Group (PUGs).

A tenor ukelele and a 1930 vintage banjo uke.

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Strummin’ Along, Singin’ a Song •

SPOTLIGHT •

The ukulele takes over the Peninsula – and the world

By Scott Dailey

Tiny Tim never saw this coming. For those unfamiliar with late-1960s television, Tiny Tim was the stage name of the late actor (no one would say, “singer”) Herbert Khaury. He achieved notoriety on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” by accompanying himself on the ukulele while warbling “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and, most infamously, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” all in an ear-bending falsetto. The ukulele itself was half of the joke. What a silly little instrument. And there was homely, long-haired Tiny Tim, all six-feet-one of him, clutching it to his chest, strumming away as viewers across the country lunged at their TVs to change channels.

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SPOTLIGHT •

Now, the ukulele is hip – and enthusiasm ginner, Michele DuBarry, of Belmont. Now starts with a lesson for beginners, and then has been growing for more than a decade. in her 60s, DuBarry says she always want- the group branches into folk songs, classiAccording to market and consumer re- ed to get involved in music again after cal music, oldies and even contemporary search firm Statista, sales of ukuleles in briefly studying the viola at age eight. “I pop hits by artists such as Ariana Grande the U.S. soared to 1.77 million in 2018, up play air guitar like anything,” she laughs, and Justin Bieber. (Information about the from 501,000 in 2009. Locally, staff at Gelb and was pleased that after one lesson with PUGs is available at www.facebook.com/ Music in Redwood City and Clock Tower Clock Tower teacher Mike Ehlers, she peninsulaukulelegroup. The organization Music in San Carlos estimate they collec- could play “Clementine,” which requires should not be confused with another Pentively sell around 900 ukuleles a year. just two chords. (“Row, Row, Row Your insula Ukulele Group, in New Zealand.) The 700 PUGS Boat” takes just one, which can be played Ukulele-playing spans generations; Ehlers says his students range literally On the Internet, YouTube brims with with a single finger.) performances ranging from those of virtu- Beyond instant gratification, low pric- from seven to 70 years old. For players above 55 years of age, the oso Jake Shimabukuro to kids’ Avenidas Ukulele Band at laptop-recorded versions of the Avenidas Village setheir favorite pop tunes. The nior-citizen center in Palo Peninsula Ukulele Group, Alto focuses on older adults. known as the PUGs, counts Founded by Redwood City more than 700 members, and residents Edward and P.A. an event in Santa Cruz called Moore, the Avenidas group “Burning Uke” (in a turn on holds twice-monthly jam the “Burning Man” festival in sessions that typically attract Nevada) sells out each Separound 20 participants. tember. Another source of the What’s going on? ukulele’s continuing popu Brian Kimmel, who with Ukelele teachers P.A and Edward Moore larity, says Edward Moore, his wife Susan owns Clock Tower Music, and Mike Craig “The instrument itself is small and portable, and it is that the instrument “has crept into the mainstream of Gelb Music both say the ukulele is the perfect starter doesn’t require a lot of hand strength to produce of media.” In a current television for someone who wants to try the chords.” commercial for Hawaii’s playing music. “The instrument itself is small and es offer another attraction. Whereas a be- Kona Brewing Company, actors David portable, and it doesn’t require a lot of ginner’s electric guitar and a small amplifi- Bell and Blake “Brutus” LaBenz pose as hand strength to produce the chords,” er cost around $200, a rock-bottom, plastic two Hawaiian “bruddahs” who ask why Kimmel observes. “And the chords are so ukulele retails for just under $40 in the each day features just one “happy hour,” simplified that you can often play a three- Kimmels’ shop. Serviceable wooden mod- while LaBenz strums a ukulele. Meanchord song with just one or two fingers.” els start at around $50. At the other end of while, pop-music hits by singers such as Adds Craig, “It’s not as intimidating the scale, premium ukes crafted from exot- Jason Mraz (“I’m Yours”), Paul McCartney (as a guitar). We see with a lot of custom- ic woods such as Hawaiian koa can bring (“Ram On”) and Taylor Swift (“Fearless”) have all included the ukulele. The late forers who come in, they look at a guitar and up to $5,000. mer Beatle George Harrison was a big ukua ukulele, and for whatever reason, the Social Time ukulele looks like it’s not as challenging or Then there’s the social aspect. Ukulele lele fan, and Shimabukuro’s ukulele cover the mountain is not as high.” players like to get together. Amelia Lin of of Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently While Brian Kimmel was commenting the PUGs says monthly meetups at the Bel- Weeps” has generated nearly 1.5 million for this article, Clock Tower co-owner Su- mont and Woodside libraries draw an av- views on YouTube. san Kimmel sold a ukulele to a musical be- erage of 40 to 60 musicians. Each gathering

24 · CLIMATE · May 2020


• The Internet, says Gelb Music guitar and ukulele teacher Chris Stone, has propelled the wave for many of his students. “YouTube is huge,” Stone says. “Not only can you see artists from all over the world very easily, but you also see people in their rooms recording themselves, doing their own versions of their favorite songs. It’s endearing and it’s inspirational to see someone like you – not some star up on a stage – sitting and just strumming something.” When it comes to stars, however, no ukulele player is more widely respected than Jake Shimabukuro. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the 43-year-old Shimabukuro is, in Craig’s words, “the Van Halen of the ukulele.” Shimabukuro combines rock, jazz and other musical genres, pushing the ukulele’s melodic, harmonic and rhythmic extremes and achieving a unique sound that’s an entire universe away from “Aloha ‘Oe.” A Childlike Sound Even with the complexity of his playing, Shimabukuro believes it’s the “childlike” character of the ukulele that contributes considerably to its popularity. The instrument’s lowest note is middle C; consequently, it plays in a fairly high range like that of a child’s voice. “I tell people that sometimes I feel like the tone of the ukulele or the sound or the frequency range of the ukulele is very similar to a child laughing, or children laughing and playing on the playground,” Shimabukuro says. “When I pick up the ukulele and play it, it makes me feel good. I feel like my day gets better when I hear the ukulele or when I get to play it. I feel more positive. I feel like I have more energy.” All this comes from a simple, fourstringed instrument that descended from the Portuguese braguinha, which, ac-

SPOTLIGHT •

Ukelele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro

"I think that’s another charming characteristic of the ukulele – that you don’t take it so seriously. That’s one of the things that I love about the instrument. It’s not intimidating." cording to the richly illustrated book, “The Ukulele: A Visual History,” is still popular on the island of Madeira. It was a collection of 419 immigrants from Portuguese-held Madeira, in fact, who introduced the instrument to Hawaii in 1879. Jim Beloff, the book’s author, credits three craftsmen from Madeira – Augusto Dias, Manuel Nunes and José do Espirito Santo – with developing the modern ukulele. How the ukulele got its name appears to be a matter of folklore. “Ukulele” in Hawaiian means “jumping flea.” Beloff says one version of the story holds that Edward Purvis, a British army officer who was

appointed to the royal court of Hawaii’s King David Kalakaua, was nicknamed “Ukelele,” in part because of his relatively small size next to that of the Hawaiians. Purvis was an exceptional braguinha player, and the name may have hopped from the man to the instrument. Another telling has it that “jumping flea” refers to a ukulele player’s fingers as they leap from string to string. However it donated its name, the “jumping flea” bit Beloff big-time. He left his job as associate publisher of music-industry publication Billboard Magazine and devoted his professional life to writing for and about the ukulele. His ukulele method books and song collections have sold more than a million copies. He has performed his ukulele compositions, including a concerto called, “Uke Can’t be Serious,” with the Michigan Philharmonic and other ensembles. Shimabukuro says the ukulele’s reputation for frivolity helps when he plays before audiences. “One of the things that I usually say at the end of my concerts, I tell people that one of the best things about being a touring ukulele player is that audiences all over the world have such low expectations,” Shimabukuro says. “And I think that’s another charming characteristic of the ukulele – that you don’t take it so seriously. That’s one of the things that I love about the instrument. It’s not intimidating. It doesn’t push people away. It embraces people, and that’s something I love.” C

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C L I M AT E •

By Janet McGovern For city leaders and residents alike, Redwood City’s core identity has been wrapped up in being the entertainment capital of the Peninsula, a destination alive with bars, restaurants and theaters. Overnight, the coronavirus has brought back a vampire specter no one imagined could ever return: Downtown “Deadwood City.” Misery has company, it must be said, and neighboring cities with thriving downtowns a couple of months ago are in exactly the same boat. For restaurateurs and retailers, for the self-employed in offices and contractors working outdoors,

26 · CLIMATE · May 2020

the coronavirus and the response to it have been devastating. Two months into an abrupt shelter-inplace closure, many business owners whose revenue took a nosedive are struggling to pay rent and make payroll and wondering how they’ll survive. Though government and community members are trying to throw these flatlined small businesses a lifeline, the economic undertow is powerful. Take Ron Brown, 75, for example. He began in the flower business with his dad at the age of six and with his wife owns Redwood City Florist on Woodside Road, next to Crippen & Flynn Funeral Chapel. Bay Area funerals are limited to 10 people or fewer, and this normally large part of the Browns’ revenue


C L I M AT E •

Struggling Coronavirus Victims:

Small Businesses on Life Support

has virtually disappeared. Their son, daughter and a grandson are the paid staff. Sales in March and April were down about $40,000. A $4,000 wedding planned for five days after the shutdown got cancelled. Administrative Assistants’ Day came and went uncelebrated April 22. “We always do Woodside and Sacred Heart (graduations),” Brown says. “They order big arrangements for the stand. All the proms and the spring dances were all cancelled and we do maybe 300 or 400 wristlets over the course of a couple of weeks. … If something doesn’t happen pretty soon,” Brown says, “if we miss Mother’s Day … I don’t know if we’ll be in business in June.”

Family-owned Plaza Florist & Gifts in San Carlos has been able take orders by phone at home, create the flower arrangements at the store on San Carlos Avenue and then drop them off. They’re mostly small birthday or “thinking of you” bouquets, says florist Jill Naghdchi, not big orders like weddings and graduations that pay the bills. The store had to lay off two employees. In business since 1985, “We’re taking it day by day,” she says. As government officials look at reopening the economy, many business owners say there needs to be more flexibility for individual businesses who are able to operate safely. May 2020 ·

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• Though he has understanding landlords, J. Vincent is struggling to pay his apartment rent as well as for his Hair Loft space on Broadway, near City Pub in Redwood City. He thinks hairstylists should be classified as “essential” businesses. Furthermore, they are state-licensed and must meet high sanitation standards. “We wash our hands more than the average person,” he says. “We wash heads. We cut hair. We’re not kissing clients. … My salon is only a five-station salon. I have six feet of space (between them).” He applied for a federal loan, but like many small businesses, got squeezed out when bigger companies got in before the first round of funding ran out. “We’re all in it together,” Vincent says, “but for me, I’m fearful that I might lose my business. I’ve worked so hard to have good credit and that’s going to go down the drain.” Losing Event Income Even if other stores start to reopen, until people flock to downtown Redwood City for entertainment and events, things will remain slow at Busy Baby Bottoms/ Stuff on the Square, a small specialty store in a kiosk on Courthouse Square. Angela Rogan has been the co-owner with Realtor Greg Garcia for two years. “The summertime is our biggest revenue and with that it usually sustains the store through the winter months because we do so well (with) summer concerts, the events,” Rogan explains. “The Fourth of July (parade and festival) is a big revenue maker for us. In fact, the Fourth of July will pay for our insurance for the whole year. And all these activities and events have now been cancelled and at this point I’m very worried.”

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C L I M AT E •

Redwood City Florist's staff left to right: Devon Simpson, Sharon Brown, Gabe Brown, Ron Brown and Sheri Brown.

“All the proms and the spring dances were all cancelled and we do maybe 300 or 400 wristlets over the course of a couple of weeks. … If something doesn’t happen pretty soon,if we miss Mother’s Day… I don’t know if we’ll be in business in June.” She has a second job as a waitress but says it will put a strain on the family budget to keep the store afloat until crowds come back. “It’s going to be a vicious, vicious year,” she adds, “because not everybody is going to come out even if they loosen the restrictions.” In San Carlos, the uncertainty about special events has put the Chamber of Commerce itself in “a bit of a bind,” according to Tom Davids, a former mayor who is now its part-time interim CEO. About 60 percent of chamber income comes from events, including an October art and wine fair.

Not knowing whether the state will allow “people wandering around without a mask” by then makes it difficult for the chamber to plan, Davids says. “We have some question how we’re going to raise the money we need to keep the doors open.” There Are Winners In every crisis there are unexpected winners. And owners who get creative and adapt. Business at Ralph Garcia’s vacuum and sewing machine store on Main Street in Redwood City has “actually been gangbusters,” he says. “We’ve sold more sewing machines in March and April than in the previous six months. Everybody’s dragging out their machines to make masks.” About 1 ½ years ago, he bought a large quantity of fabric and has been able to sell mask-makings too. “I find it hard to believe there’s still a shortage of masks the way they’re cranking them out,” Garcia says. Peter Borrone and his wife initially shuttered their popular Vesta restaurant on Broadway but were worried about their employees and reopened two weeks later for takeout. They’ve only been able to bring back four of 18 servers, but all the kitchen staff and dishwashers are at work. Chairs and tables have been rearranged to facilitate pick-up by DoorDash-type services and customers, and a few kid-friendly items have been added to the menu. Not knowing what to expect the first night they reopened, Borrone was at home fixing dinner when a staffer called and said he needed help. “When I drove up there were people six feet apart, but they were down the block,” he says. “They were on that side of the street. They were sitting in their cars. They were everywhere. It was amazing support.”


• City and business organizations have jumped in. The Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce initiated a “Feeding Our Local Heroes” campaign to deliver restaurant meals to hospital staff and other essential workers. Funds to buy the lunches and dinners come from community-minded corporate and individual sponsors. By late April, about 1,100 meals had been delivered. Dani Gasparini, a former mayor, has helped match recipients and restaurants. It’s a way to thank the workers who are keeping essential services going and also keep chefs and other restaurant staff on the payroll. “The winner in it,” she says, “is really the restaurant.” $1 Million to Start Local government is trying to help. The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors allocated $1 million for small businesses in the county through the San Mateo Strong Fund. Grants are being administered by the San Mateo County Development Association jointly with the San Mateo County Credit Union. At a $10,000 maximum per grant, that translates to money for 100 business across 21 jurisdictions, SAMCEDA’s executive director Rosanne Foust told the supervisors. Since the initial outlay, a growing number of cities have been adding to the fund to help their own businesses—$1.3 million and counting. Redwood City added $300,000, Foust says, so on top of the grants made countywide, “we can save at least 30 (Redwood City) businesses if not more.” Applications opened April 27 and the number of businesses applying far exceeded available funds. The small business grant portal has closed and the applications are being reviewed for funding.

C L I M AT E •

Vesta owner/operators Courtney and Peter Borrone

“When I drove up there were people six feet apart, but they were down the block. They were on that side of the street. They were sitting in their cars. They were everywhere.” “We’re trying to get corporate donors, any residents who want to donate to it, high net-worth individuals, whoever we can get,” adds Foust, who is also a former Redwood City mayor. “If we want to keep these small businesses which really matter to us open, then we’ve all got to be dialing for dollars.” She and her staff put in long days to gather information for the SAMCEDA website on loans and grants available to businesses, legislation and other vital topics. San Mateo Strong had to be built “from the ground up” in less than three weeks, she adds. “There’s no other mechanism that is out there to really get money to small business quickly.” Don Burrus, Redwood City’s economic development manager, enlisted librarians to call the city’s 6,600 business license holders to find out what they need and offer information. Burrus had personally handled more than 300 calls and emails

from often desperate business owners, especially after funds from the initial bailout legislation had been exhausted. “I definitely think that it’s going to be very difficult for all businesses, not just Redwood City but every business in the United States to try to recover from a lack of revenue generation certainly for 60 days,” Burrus says. “It’s going to be tough for everyone.” Mayor Diane Howard made phone calls to the management companies at Sequoia Station and the downtown cinema asking them to cut their tenants some slack. All businesses may not survive, but she hopes the city can provide encouragement and resources “that they’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Real Recovery Ultimately, though, real recovery hinges on getting back to work, and pressure to reopen is increasing, especially as other states greenlight their businesses. Foust participates in a thrice-weekly call with city, county staff and business leaders, and she has been advocating for residential construction to be allowed to continue. The county-led group, Foust adds, is starting to focus on what can be opened and when. “They want to do this but they want to do it in the safest way possible.” Howard sympathizes with residents who got caught up in the shutdown while remodeling and are living with an unfinished bathroom or a wall that wasn’t closed up. Others may have moved out during the construction and are paying double rent. That said, she adds, “I’m all for trying to get back, but I’m going to follow the guidelines of the county and the governor. I feel that we really need to be very careful as we go forward so we don’t have a relapse.” C May 2020 ·

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M I •C C RO L I MCAL TI M EA •T E •

For Many, Sheltering in Place Means Being Neighborly What did you do when life locked down? Some people teleworked, some homeschooled, some climbed the walls, some snacked too much (and then) went for walks. And some thought of ways to reach out to their neighbors in pretty altruistic and innovative ways. Start with Laura Peterhans, who lives in a hilly area of Belmont east of Alameda de las Pulgas. She’s a former schoolteacher who still gives piano lessons, so it was no stretch for her to come up with something homeschooling families could do together out on walks. She made up sort of a neighborhood treasure hunt—an observation/ detective list of 50 items to look for in a 1½-mile area on and around Belle Monti Avenue, where she lives. The list included things to count (such as numbers of palm or fruit trees), unusual architecture and even a hard-to-find treehouse. Peterhans figured the project would give kids a chance to do charts and statistics too. She left the detective sheet on doorsteps and also handed them out to people she met in hopes the list inspires families to really see what’s around them. And to engage with each other—rather than their cellphones—when they’re out walking. When Dr. Avram Greenspan and his wife Sheryl announced in January that they were closing their Redwood City Pediatrics office after 32 years, they envisioned there’d be some celebrations and farewells as they wound down the practice. Their plan was to relocate to Arizona by May 1, where they’d bought a home. They needed to be out of both the office and their rented home by April 30. And then the coronavirus upended things. Like everyone else, the Greenspans have had to shelter in place, notwithstanding the upcoming move. But not like everyone

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else, their San Carlos home has been a hub of activity for putting together masks and goodie bags for the staff at local hospitals and emergency responders. It began not long after the shelter-in-place order was issued, when daughter Shaina Greenspan, who works at UCSF, commented that it was hard for some staffers to take a break and get something to eat. The family responded by filling three Trader Joe’s-grocery bags with goodies and put out an appeal on NextDoor. Within 24 hours, $1,500 was contributed. Twenty-five more bags were filled with items like peanut butter, nuts, granola bars, and sesame crackers. Requests—and contributions of both funds and groceries to fill the bags—have continued to pour in and, as of April 27, about 340 grocery bags have been delivered, to Sequoia, Kaiser, Stanford, and UC Benioff hospitals, fire departments and more. The

Greenspans did all the assembly at home because of the shelter-in-place rules. It didn’t stop there. Sheryl is a nurse who used to work at Sequoia. When she heard about the need for masks, “I just flipped out.” She put out the call to NextDoor neighbors and friends and donations of fabric, elastic and other mask essentials started being dropped off at her house. Seamstresses could pick up the mask material and go to work. The volunteers have produced about 2,400 masks, which have been delivered to some of the same places, as well as assisted living centers and rehab units. “We didn’t plan to retire during a pandemic,” Sheryl says. “It is what it is.” The couple did end up getting a rather over-the-top sendoff, a huge drive-by parade April 26, with the mayor of San Carlos in the lead car and proclamations from San Carlos and Redwood City. “It was unbelievable,” Sheryl says. “I’m still just stuttering over my words.” Once the Greenspans are settled into their new home in Arizona, she intends to continue as a mask resource. Indie pop-rocker Karla Kane and her band called the Corner Laughers are releasing a new album June 5 called “Temescal Telegraph;” but one of the songs on the CD is already available online—with very local Redwood City roots. “The Accepted Time” was released April 17 as a single, and a video was filmed on the campus of Orion School, where the singer-songwriter’s daughter Octavia is, or was, a kindergartner before the shutdown in March. She’s frolicking in the video along with Chuck Crabtree, the drummer’s sevenyear-old son. You can check the video out on YouTube. “Now is the accepted time” is part of a W.E.B. Du Bois quote and is posted at the Unitarian Universalist Church, which Kane had seen last November while walking Octavia home from Ori-


M I C R O C L I M AT E •

appreciate music. To hear or buy the entire album, go to cornerlaughers.com.

Karla Kane and the Corner Laughers

Climate’s March issue highlighted Chef Gavin Gonzado and the popular lunch program he and a team of volunteers dish up at the Redwood City Senior Center. The shelter-in-place order meant that seniors

on. The lyrics have Redwood City allusions a-plenty (see below). The path down Eagle Hill Is like a river, like a winding tributary to the sea And the sea’s the town on a busy morning or a quiet afternoon I hold your hand and hope you’ll understand I need to Feel your fingers wrapped around mine, please Yes, I know, that life means letting go but I will Hold on just a little longer Our feet upon the leaves That have fallen over night while we were sleeping and the sign We stop to read In the churchyard right beside the Open Gate Make the time for trees you long to climb and make me take the time to be there with you, please Count the bells, we pass by Mt. Carmel and look up Find the North Star and Orion Walk alongside me If I hurry, tell me ‘wait,’ to go more slowly Now is the accepted time And a walk home can be a world its own The single is available at bigstirrecords. com/the-corner-laughers, and all sale proceeds will go to the Redwood City Education Foundation. Kane says it’s difficult releasing an album in the midst of a pandemic with all tours and local gigs cancelled. But she hopes people still need and

couldn’t come for lunch or other programs, so the parks department instantly got creative and has switched to serving up meals-to-go. Gonzado is still concocting the menus (it might be spaghetti or a big sandwich, plus soup, a bag of chips and fruit), but because volunteers can’t be involved, gardeners and other city employees have been redeployed to get the packaged food out to the seniors. About half of them come to the senior center to pick up lunch; the other half of the meals are home-delivered. Instead of being served on plates, the meals are bagged into to-go pouches. A few seniors also get a newspaper, puzzles or paperbacks on request. Meals must be ordered the day before. Bruce Utecht, a supervisor in the department, says it started March 17, first for seniors who are usually picked up and driven to the center. But as word spread— it’s literally a free lunch after all—the program has expanded, including to Casa de Redwood and a residential care facility, as well as to some seniors in Redwood Shores. The city has been able to keep the per-lunch cost down to about $5, exclusive of labor, Utecht says. The number is up to about 250 lunches, five days a week,

and the hope is that there’ll be federal reimbursement. What the isolated seniors are really hungry for? “A lot of it is they just want somebody to talk to on the telephone,” Utecht says. “… That’s the key to a lot of it, is still being able to be social.” The annual Memorial Day observance at Union Cemetery in Redwood City is another of the events taken down by the coronavirus. Technically this historic site off Woodside Road next to Crippen & Flynn Chapel is a park, and city staff advised the Union Cemetery board of directors that they should not host a ceremony, according to President Ellen Crawford. A lot of those who attend are elderly, “and so we are being prudent.” Although active recreation areas are closed, passive walking areas can still be open, she was told, and as Union Cemetery falls into that category, it will be open. Union Cemetery is both a peaceful place for reflection and also very interesting, well worth a Memorial Day visit. The Redwood City Library Foundation has brought on board as its new executive director Lisa Hicks-Dumanske, who has exHicks-Dumanske tensive experience in creating strategic plans and developing new ways of increasing community engagement, according to the announcement about her appointment. Hicks-Dumanske has served on the Library Board since 2013. She succeeds Rouslana Yaroslavsky.

C

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OPINION•

Proud San Matean: My story of belonging By Amourence Lee I was born and raised a Red Sox Fan, and had a crush on Tony from Same Old Place Pizza – just like all the girls in the neighborhood. But being biracial in Boston in the 1980s, I often felt like an alien. Feeling like a foreigner in my hometown probably had something to do with the countless times that I was asked “What are you?” and “Where are you really from?” In my day, racist comments were the norm. Before turning 18 years old, I was yelled at from moving cars, “Go back to China!,” called a “Chink,” complimented for my English, subjected to creepy “Asian girl” fetishes, and mocked in a “Chinese” accent. As a kid, my sense of self was shadowed by shame, embarrassment, and genuine confusion about why strangers hated me. And what could possibly make them so angry at my existence? The harshness of the outside world was in stark contrast to my family life. We were a cross between the U.N. and The Brady Bunch, as a multicultural, blended family – with my Asian dad, Jewish mom, and Black god-mom. I’m the oldest of eight kids, with five adopted sisters from China. We were a loud, loving, and perfectly dysfunctional bunch – the epitome of a mosaic American family. Race relations in New England was a “Black/White” issue. Asians weren’t even part of the vocabulary, and biracial kids, like me, were a rarity. It wasn’t until 2000 that “multi-racial” was an included category in the U.S. Census. So it wasn’t hard to leave the place that never quite felt like home. I went to school in New York, lived in China, traveled in South and Central America, and might just have continued

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Amourence Lee

"As a kid, my sense of self was shadowed by shame, embarrassment, and genuine confusion about why strangers hated me. And what could possibly make them so angry at my existence?" wandering – until we found our “forever home” in the City of San Mateo. Over 10 years ago, when my husband and I moved to San Mateo to start a family, it was truly the first place I felt an instant sense of belonging. At the time, I couldn’t have known all the things I’d come to love about San Mateo, but I did feel it. There’s the beautiful tapestry of Art Deco, Craftsman, and Spanish Revival architecture – not to mention 200 acres of open space. Authentic bratwurst, empanadas, Irish brew, Taiwanese stinky tofu — all on a single downtown block. San Mateo has a used book store, tech startups, the oldest Chinese Laundromat in the country, with

a Chinese and Spanish immersion public school, all generations, faiths, and every stripe of the rainbow. I felt a kinesthetic sense of familiarity and, on my first visit, the decision was made that this is where we’d make our life. Years later, I’d delve into San Mateo’s history as a community that strives to overcome racial discrimination by championing diversity as part of our core values. I came to appreciate how remarkable it is that San Mateo became sister cities with Toyonaka, Japan, only two decades after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the incarceration of American citizens of Japanese descent. For over half a century, our city nurtured this cultural-exchange program for our youth. It is widely considered to be one of San Mateo’s best traditions, and a powerful reminder of the potential of bridge building. A lesser-known part of San Mateo’s history is the story of how the King Center in North Central got its name. In 1969, on the heels of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s tragic assassination, the City Council unanimously agreed to dedicate the community center as a memorial to Dr. King. At the meeting, Councilmember Murray read aloud a letter from the Rev. Cooper of St. James AME Zion Church, expressing his hope that the recreation center would not be segregated, as that would be antithetical to Dr. King’s teachings. This was a symbolic victory that affirmed San Mateo’s commitment to inclusivity. Naming and honoring our heroes took courage, much like when San Mateo was the only city in the country to hold a home-


• coming parade for returning Vietnam veterans. In 1972, 8,000 spectators applauded the return of 113 members of the 101st Airborne Division, known as the “Screaming Eagles.” San Mateans embraced and celebrated our war veterans, when across the states they received no welcome — or worse, as they were even shunned and stigmatized for their sacrifice. During the COVID-19 health crisis, hateful rhetoric and dog-whistling is coming from the highest level of our federal government. Hate crimes and harassment are on the rise and many of our Asian community members have said they are afraid for themselves and their children. They ask, “What is San Mateo doing about the racism and xenophobia targeting Asians?” San Mateo is joining with local leaders, including Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Assemblymember Pro Tem Kevin Mullin, Senator Jerry Hill, and councilmem-

OPINION•

bers across the county to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Asian/Pacific Islander community to unite against hate. San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals and the assistant District Attorney scrubbed racist graffiti from our public signs and pledged to prosecute hate crimes to the fullest extent of the law. San Mateans should feel assured that our Police Department will continue to closely monitor incidences of hate crimes and other violence and discrimination against Asian Americans and immigrants as the pandemic progresses. We also encourage reporting to the STOP AAPI HATE Project. Recently, our San Mateo City Council joined with other cities in the county to adopt a proclamation denouncing racism and xenophobia. It states, “The City of San Mateo is a diverse community – more than 20 percent of our population is of Asian or Pacific Islander descent – that draws

its strength from its highly diverse population. The city of San Mateo routinely celebrates its cultural diversity and is now extremely concerned for the well-being of our residents that might be facing discrimination.” There’s a saying, “Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard.” All San Mateans deserve to have a sense of belonging and safety in our City. As Dr. King said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” Throughout our history, San Mateans have chosen to do right. That is who we are, and are always striving to be. C Amourence Lee is a member of the San Mateo City Council, board member of the San Mateo County API Caucus, and honorary chair of the Sister City Association.

R

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May 2020 ·

CLIMATE · 33


C L I M AT E •

Quédate en casa. Salva vidas.

Fique em casa. Salve vidas.

Restez chez vous. Sauvez des vies.

Zuhause bleiben. Leben retten.

STAY HOME SAVE LIVES FOR MORE INFORMATION

Dial 2-1-1 for non-emergency, non-medical calls smchealth.org/coronavirus

34 · CLIMATE · May 2020

SAN MATEO COUNTY HEALTH All together better.


C L I M AT E •

TOGETHER, WE DESIGN PLACES THAT INSPIRE PEOPLE

851 MAIN STREET

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Troupers •

C L I M AT E •

Theaters and nightclubs are closed, but performers and impresarios look for ways to soldier on.

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C L I M AT E •

By Scott Dailey

This spring and summer should have brought new plays and music, the Redwood City Fourth of July Parade, concerts and movie nights in Courthouse Square, the San Carlos Chickens’ Ball and Hometown Days, and a wealth of other cultural activities on the mid-Peninsula. Instead, theaters and clubs went dark, and people got reacquainted with Netflix.

I

n mid-April, as this is being written, the usual nighttime bustle of Broadway in Redwood City and Laurel Street in San Carlos has disappeared. Music haunts like Angelicas Bistro and Savanna Jazz are shuttered. Likewise the Fox Theatre, the Dragon Theatre and Broadway by the Bay. The Fourth of July Parade and the Chickens’ Ball have been cancelled. Hometown Days has been switched to August. If it’s not quite the day the music died, then it’s close. Ernie Schmidt, general manager of the Fox Theatre on Broadway in downtown Redwood City, says the organization has already lost around $100,000 in bookings since the coronavirus shutdown order came in March. Up the street at the Dragon, co-directors Max Koknar and Alika Spencer-Koknar put the worst-case estimate at $300,000, assuming the theater doesn’t reopen until possibly September. Among the hardest-hit are performing artists whose income has largely evaporated. Local folk singer Jim Stevens earns the bulk of his living playing for residents of elder-care facilities. In an average month, he books 25 performances. Except for one monthly session over Facetime, that has all gone away. For the foreseeable future, he’s relying on his position as a part-time mu-

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sician at St. Charles Church in San Carlos, along with his wife’s salary from her job as a nurse scientist at Stanford Healthcare. Palo Alto-based Wiley Rankin operates Jump for Joy Music, which provides musical education and entertainment, mainly to preschools. He has seen his income dip by two-thirds, with the remaining one-third coming from gigs via “Zoomcasts” and other online forums. Through that, however, Rankin senses opportunity. His performances over Zoom have reached more than 90 families each, leading him to a greater exploration of Internet-based production. That, in turn, has opened him to the potential for expanding his business beyond the Bay Area, and he hopes to re-establish his full income by mid-summer. “Adversity,” he says, “is a good teacher.” The combination of tough times and technology has brought together performers from throughout the Bay Area on a Facebook site called, “Quarantined Cabaret.” Founded by Saratoga actor Becky Owens, the members-only site has attracted more than 600 thespians, musicians and other creative people. It offers openmic-style, livestreamed performances on Friday nights, as well as numerous songs, dramatic scenes and readings recorded by members. An especially poignant performance features South Bay actor Geoffrey Silk singing “MacArthur Park,” the oft-recorded 1968 song by Jimmy Webb that fuses feelings of love, loss and hope. Tough Times Owens says the Friday-night shows give participants and audience members “something to look forward to” during a time when every day seems to fade into the next. She notes that the performers, many of whom have played leading roles in local theater productions, “are really taking the time to practice. They’re still staying in touch with their craft. I think that’s really important, when it’s easy to just fall into

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Wiley Rankin of Jump for Joy Music

“Adversity is a good teacher.” being depressed or unmotivated when the thing that you love comes to a sudden stop, like it has.” Many of the performances on the site, she says, have been family acts, including one from a friend and her children in Owens’s native New Hampshire. Of that, Owens says, “I think even beyond being able to give us a chance to practice, it gives us a chance to connect, even with the people in our own home, in a new way.” In San Carlos, the 100-plus volunteers in the Chickens’ Ball had completed their dress rehearsal and were preparing for a March 13 opening night when the show was cancelled. Modeled after the event of the same name on 19th-century San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, the lavishly costumed, biennial program raises money for cultural education in the San Carlos public schools. Even with the seven-night show called off – for the first time in its 80-year history, according to General Chair Mona Klein – the event still performed in the black.

Sponsorships and advance ticket sales netted $16,000 for the school district, with many sponsors and ticket holders converting their investments into donations. The amount raised compares with $40,000 from the previous show, in 2018. Klein says no decisions have been made about a possible future performance, noting that the ball’s steering committee currently “does not have a pathway. With shelter-in-place, we don’t know what the next few months will bring.” Falling Back Also in San Carlos, the directors of the city’s annual Hometown Days celebration are betting that life will be back to some version of normal by the end of August. Originally set for May 15 to 17, the threeday event, including its colorful parade along Laurel Street, has been rescheduled for August 28 to 30. Board Chair Adrienne Werner notes that, early in its 40-year history, Hometown Days was held in the fall, so this year’s new dates represent at least a brief return to the past. “We hope that moving the date will not impact our participation and the feel of our event,” Werner says. “With it being a week and a half after school starts and right before Labor Day, it will kind of be hopefully something fresh, something new, something for people to look forward to, and fill the start of the school year with a little bit of hope and community pride.” In Redwood City, fans of floats, marching bands and silver-laden horses won’t be so lucky. Soon after the shelter-in-place order in March, the Peninsula Celebration Association cancelled its annual Fourth of July Parade. Chris Beth, Redwood City’s director of parks, recreation and community services, says that will also be the case for city-sponsored events during the two or three months. “We want to be very conservative and cautious, and as we are following the (San Mateo County) health order, see what


• makes sense,” Beth says. “We can make assumptions, too, that we won’t have regular programming through the first part of the summer, and I would say that would be June and July. But nothing’s been formalized or announced yet. This is in discussion (among city officials throughout San Mateo County and the county health department), this is what we are thinking, and we’re really going to get our cues from the county health official.” Even when entertainment venues reopen, the question remains: Will audiences return? What will an audience look like? Will social distancing still be required? Savanna Jazz in San Carlos holds just 50 patrons, squeezed into a tight space. The Dragon Theatre seats only a few dozen more. Alika Spencer-Koknar of the Dragon and Pascal Bokar Thiam, proprietor of Savanna Jazz, both worry that people will be reluctant to come back. Afraid to Gather “There’s a kind of a feeling that, until there’s a vaccine, people are going to be afraid to congregate and go back into a small theater,” Spencer-Koknar says. “And also, coming back, when we are allowed to congregate again, there will most likely be a lot of regulations, so we’re trying to keep all of those permutations in mind.” Thiam observes that jazz audiences tend to be older, and thus more at risk to the virus than younger listeners. He’s concerned they might be wary about jamming into a small venue, even after some sort of all-clear is given. For the present, like many small-business owners, Thiam is just hunkering down. “Right now, it’s very difficult to make any kinds of plans,” he says, predicting Savanna might feel the effects of the virus for up to two years. In the meantime, he has income from music-teaching positions at the University of San Francisco and City College of San Francisco, and his wife,

C L I M AT E •

Vicki Lawlor, also a teacher, has her salary from the Redwood City public schools. Even so, the club is closed, and bills are stacking up. It’s the same at the Dragon, where Max Koknar says the theater’s patrons and friends donated $12,000 in the last two weeks of March to cover rent. Koknar says the theater’s landlord, Premier Properties, has been both understanding and committed to helping keep the organization in business. To stay afloat, he says he and Spencer-Koknar have been “throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.” That includes, among other offerings, online theater and playwriting classes, and readings of public-domain works (Edgar Allan Poe has been an audience favorite). For Koknar, the issue is not just the Dragon’s continued existence, but also a mandate that he feels to help people through a troubled period. “I think now is a time more than ever where people are stuck in their homes and

are feeling isolated and lonely and looking for ways to make sense of what is happening in the world around them,” Koknar says. “And that’s what the arts are supposed to do. And we are a nonprofit organization. Dragon is a service organization. If we don’t have a way to serve, why do we get to survive this when – let’s be honest – there are so many organizations in the small, nonprofit arts sphere that are going to get hit by this and are likely not going to survive this?” Audiences aren’t the only ones who need the arts. Actors and musicians don’t just perform to live; they live to perform. Lacking venues with viewers, that has become a problem. For the most part, performers – and promoters – have taken a stunning financial hit. And what the future brings, nobody knows. But with a bit of ingenuity and a liberal dash of technology, it appears that in a few corners, at least for now, the show may go on. C

Local Online Entertainment Jump for Joy Music: www.facebook.com/jumpforjoymusic South Bay Musical Theatre: www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0aduNQ0nvs (very clever song parody called, "Maskmaker, Maskmaker," based on "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," from "Fiddler on the Roof) Other fun song parodies: www.youtube.com ("Gee, Anthony Fauci," based on "Dear Officer Krupke" from "West Side Story") www.youtube.com ("Baby, It's COVID Outside," based on "Baby, It's Cold Outside," by Frank Loesser) Members only, but the public may request permission for membership. www.facebook.com/groups Be looking for the May online preformances by Dragon Theater by going to: www.dragonproducions.net

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C L I M AT E •


C L I M AT E •

Not Our First

Viral Terror By Jill Singleton

Author’s note: Back in 2002, I began researching a magazine article to commemorate the mid-century polio epidemic, but gave it up until a few weeks ago when I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal, by David M. Oshinsky, author of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning history book: “Polio: An American Crusade.” The book’s first four words: “San Angelo in 1949” dropped my jaw and kickstarted this piece. Sadly, all those quoted are no longer here to object to my errors.

I

n the late 1940s, American life never looked brighter. Returning veterans were marrying their sweethearts, buying homes, creating that Baby Boom. The economy rocked. New vaccines were limiting viral diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria, yellow fever. Penicillin, though in scarce supply, worked miracles. But not all was well. Each summer, a wave of parental terror would spread across the country— with the recurrence of poliomyelitis, or polio, the scourge also known as infantile paralysis. “People used to dread summer,” recalled my father’s later medical partner, Charles Ross, M.D., who was a pediatric resident in Buffalo, New York, during the worst polio years. Pools closed. Children stayed indoors. Movie houses, bowling alleys and churches shut their doors. Nobody knew how polio spread. Some thought it may have been carried by flies, mosquitos or tainted water. Some towns sprayed DDT daily. Handles were removed from drinking faucets. Privies were outlawed and public restrooms were closed. Some people didn’t trust the air in their tires. Nobody talked to strangers.

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• Unlike Covid-19, which attacks the elderly and infirm, polio preyed mostly upon the young. Like Covid-19, there was no known cure or prevention. Hardest hit were small and isolated towns, including the one where I was born, San Angelo, Texas.

C L I M AT E • “(Those paralyzed) would lose the use of their legs first, then their arms. And if it was really severe, chest muscles and they went into respirators … and stayed all their lives,” Dr. Ross recalled. “Those that died, died fairly quickly of respiratory failure; usually they gave out in the first 24 hours. As medical people, we hated polio, because there was not a hell of a lot you could do.” Nationwide, 20 percent of those paralyzed died. In San Angelo, it was more than 33 percent.

The Plague of Polio In 1949, San Angelo, population 45,000, had the highest per capita incidence in one of the nation’s worst polio years. My sister was born at the height of the plague and at the time, my father, Jack Jonas Salk W. Singleton, M.D., was the only A Call for Help “Parents were besides themselves,” Dr. Ross pediatrician around. San Angelo’s plight was so ex “Parents were besides themtreme, calls for help were anremembered. What made polio so terrifying selves,” Dr. Ross remembered. swered from across the country. was that, although 72 percent of cases were What made polio so terrifying asymptomatic and 24 percent of the infections Stanford University sent a team was that, although 72 percent of of research doctors, as did Cocases were asymptomatic and 24 presented in mild form, “when it hit hard people lumbia, and my father’s alma became essentially helpless.” percent of the infections presentmater in Chicago. The National ed in mild form, “when it hit hard Foundation for Infantile Paralpeople became essentially helpless.” Most- ers. There would now be eight iron lungs. ysis (an organization started by Frankly, people feared their children becoming Would this be enough? lin Delano Roosevelt — himself a polio permanently paralyzed and requiring one- In 1949, “close to 40,000 cases were re- victim — and later known as the March on-one care for their entire lives. ported in the United States, one for every of Dimes), served as a clearinghouse for Only a few anecdotes of the polio ep- 3,775 people. San Angelo saw 420 cases, much of the medical assistance. The Red idemics survive in my family. My oldest one for every 124 inhabitants, of whom 84 Cross marshalled equipment and materiel brother remembered my father, hearing were permanently paralyzed and 28 died,” while the Army Air Corps at nearby Goodthat four pediatric iron lungs had been sent according to Oshinsky’s “Polio: An Ameri- fellow Field flew in blankets, medication, to the University of Texas Medical School in can Crusade.” beds, respirators and other equipment. Galveston, called and said he was coming Like Covid-19, polio presented as a The town’s black and Hispanic comto get one, that day. With my brother (then mild flu-like illness with low-grade fever, munities were hardest hit. Unusual for that about six) riding shotgun, he drove the 850- headache, sore throat, stiff neck, muscle time and place, polio wards were racially mile round-trip from West Texas to the Gulf weakness and stomachache. Most people integrated at Shannon Memorial HospiCoast in our 1948 Plymouth coupe. didn’t even see a doctor and recovered in tal, an up-to-date, regional medical center, “I still don’t know how we wrestled four to five days. A few patients would and free care was given all who needed it. that thing in the back of the car,” my broth- develop meningitis and one out of 200, Scores of townspeople volunteered day er said. What, I now wonder, were my mild paralysis. Often, those who recov- and night to care for the sick, especially father’s thoughts returning with the pre- ered were left permanently weakened when thunderstorms knocked out power cious cargo? That summer half of San An- with undeveloped limbs and sometimes and iron lungs had to be hand-pumped for gelo’s 160 hospital beds had polio suffer- curved spines. hours on end.

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C L I M AT E •

Top: The 1948 San Angelo, Texas office of Dr. Singleton . Left: Dr. Jack Singleton, M.D. Right: A patient in an iron lung.

“Those that died, died fairly quickly of respiratory failure; usually they gave out in the first 24 hours. As medical people, we hated polio, because there was not a hell of a lot you could do.” My father worked around the clock, days at a time. At one point, my mother, Pat, recalled telling him: “Jack, you haven’t seen your own children for two weeks. You need to eat dinner at home tonight, then go back to the hospital.” Extremely contagious, polio was transmitted through both the fecal/oral route and airborne droplets. Unlike Covid-19, polio was not new to the world. Egyptian hieroglyphics depict people with polio leg. Why this endemic virus became epidemic in the 20th century was a mystery unraveled when three strains were identified and epidemiologists linked transmission to factors as unrelated as modern sanitation and population mobility. Polio Shots Thanks to enormous, competing research efforts, polio largely disappeared after 1955 when vaccines were introduced. The first was a killed-virus developed by Jonas Salk. Boomer kids got a series of three Salk injections and annual boosters that

left characteristic round scars on the upper arm. Then in the early 1960s, Albert Sabin’s attenuated live vaccine arrived in a sugar cube with a little red dot. By the late 1990s, these vaccines, and a global eradication campaign funded by the March of Dimes, Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Health Organization, confined the disease to three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Our family left San Angelo in early 1953, when my father was recalled into the Navy during the Korean War. We came to California in 1954, and he practiced for 30 years in the East Bay. There were four of us kids in the family (Michael, Bill, Anne and me.) Before he died in 1995, my father left us an oral history, saying: “I have loved my profession and I was lucky to be in it during the time of the greatest advancement in the history of medicine: the control or eradication of most infectious disease …. organ transplants … chemotherapy … heart surgery

… (that) has saved countless lives. As I look back, I realize how fortunate I have been.” Dr. Ralph Chase, a pediatrician who took over my dad’s San Angelo practice in 1953, wrote a local history of the epidemic, concluding with its greatest lesson: “One should not look upon treatment but on prevention of disease as the most important mission of the physician and other health-care professional.” Looking through the lens of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s humbling to think how a tiny half-beast, a rudimentary, incomplete life form can bring our country, and the world, to a standstill. It’s not the first time, and probably won’t be the last.

C Jill Singleton, a longtime Bay Area resident, spent nearly 25 years as Cargill’s public relations representative in the Bay Area, following stints as a government official and newspaper reporter.

May 2020 ·

CLIMATE · 43


HISTORY by Jim Clifford•

Redwood City’s Civil War Cavalry Unit Answered the Bell Civil War reenactors converged on Half Moon Bay last November to stage pitched battles from America’s bloodiest war, offering an opportunity to recall the Jefferson Cavalry of Redwood City, even though the horse soldiers never saw action and are remembered more for having a good time than for their military skills. A good example of the antics of the 100-member militia group took place Oct. 15, 1863, when the unit rode to a party celebrating the coming of the railroad to Menlo Park. John Edmonds, author of “The Civil War, Northern California’s Unrecognized Valor,” wrote that the horses feasted on fruit sold by a vendor and trampled his wagon. To their credit, the men passed the hat and provided the vendor with twice the value of his loss. “The Jefferson Calvary had become a very well-known fighting unit that never fired their weapons” in anger, Edmonds said. According to documents in the California Military Museum, the outfit—the only recognized Civil War militia in San Mateo County—was formed on Jan. 1, 1864, and mustered out on Aug. 8, 1866. The soldiers received pistols, swords, saddles and uniforms from the states, but they provided their own horses. The museum’s brief history noted the Jeffersons had to forfeit $111.83 for “loss of equipment.” “The truth is that they had a very good time and their antics were quite hilarious,” Edmonds said, adding that the troopers took their task seriously, even though they

44 · CLIMATE · May 2020

often ended up looking like something out of a comic opera. For instance, there was the night the Jeffersons won the Battle of the Burro, which came as a rumor circulated that the Confederates were going to charge up the Peninsula and capture San Francisco. A soldier stood guard near the bell at the fire station on Marshall Street with orders to ring the bell if he thought Redwood City was being attacked, which is what he did when he heard unusual noises coming from nearby bushes. He rang the bell and the cavalry responded, quickly forming a line as its members were supposed to. On command, they attacked in the direction of the noise. “They were somewhat embarrassed when a burro walked out,” Edmonds said. By the way, the bell is still there in front of the firehouse. Despite a few such Keystone Cops episodes, the unit was organized to defend against a real threat. It made a number of appearances in the Redwood City area “without the comical incidents that made

the records,” Edmonds insisted. “One must remember that all these men worked full time” at their civilian jobs. The Jefferson Cavalry’s ranks included some of Redwood City’s leading citizens. George Fox and Andrew Teague were destined to become district attorneys. It was Teague who rang the bell to warn the town about the impending attack by what turned out to be a burro. The unit’s first public appearance was in a parade in Redwood City that set the tone for its legacy. The soldiers, resplendent in their uniforms, rode smartly down the street when the order was given to draw sabers, a command that scared some horses who bolted in every direction, some not stopping until they reached home. The men and horses were better trained when the Jeffersons took part in the Fourth of July Parade in San Francisco in 1865. As they left Redwood City, the unit went by the office of the San Mateo County Gazette with brightly polished sabers glistening in the morning sunlight. “We thought they never looked so well, and that they were well worthy of and deserved the appellation of The Pride of San Mateo,” the Gazette’s editor wrote. C


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Climate Magazine – May 2020 Edition  

Climate Magazine is a monthly publication that covers local news, community events and stories across San Mateo County. Climate Magazine wil...

Climate Magazine – May 2020 Edition  

Climate Magazine is a monthly publication that covers local news, community events and stories across San Mateo County. Climate Magazine wil...

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