Tag Archives: California

The Historical Old Temple of Vedanta Society In San Francisco

The Old Temple of the Vedanta Society in San Francisco somehow made me think about the little poem below by Rabindranath Tagore. I have appended my (admittedly poor) translation below the poem.

বহু দিন ধরেবহু ক্রোশ দূরে

বহু ব্যয় করিবহু দেশ ঘুরে

দেখিতে গিয়েছি পর্বতমালা

দেখিতে গিয়েছি সিন্ধু।

দেখা হয় নাই চক্ষু মেলিয়া

ঘর হতে শুধু দুই পা ফেলিয়া

একটি ধানের শিষের উপরে

একটি শিশির বিন্দু।।

“Over many many years, I traveled many many miles, spent a fortune, and visited many distant lands to enjoy the majestic beauty of great mountain ranges and seashores. But I just did not spare the time to merely step outside my front door and open my eyes to the simple beauty of a drop of dew glistening on a blade of grass in a paddy field.”

We travel to London, Paris, Rome, Greece, Egypt to see the Buckingham Palace, Notre Dame, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Acropolis, and the pyramids. We travel east to visit the famous Borobodur and Angkor Wat in Indonesia and Cambodia, Beijing’s Summer Palace, and the Great Wall of China. We take time to visit the famous temples of Kedar/Badri, Varanasi, and Tirupati.  

But how many among us have noticed the Old Temple of the Vedanta Society of Northern California – a rather unusual structure – at the southwest corner of Webster and Filbert Street in San Francisco?  How many of us even knew about it?

Replica of Benares Temple and Swami Vedananda (Image by Partha Sircar)

The Old Temple has its own unique history.  It is the oldest universal Hindu temple in the western world.  It was completed in 1906, just before the great San Francisco earthquake. It somehow survived the earthquake and the fire that followed – some may think it was divine intervention. The temple was built under the leadership of Swami Trigunatitananda, who at the time was in charge of the Vedanta Society of San Francisco (founded by Swami Vivekananda himself in 1900). Swami Trigunatitananda was a brother disciple of Swami Vivekananda, one of Sri Ramakrishna’s sixteen monastic disciples.  Incidentally, he died in 1915 resulting from the injuries from a bomb thrown at him by a deranged disciple, while he was speaking from the pulpit of his beloved temple – the first martyr of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Movement.

Swami Trigunatiatnanda had grandiose visions of the temple. He wanted it to reflect an architectural representation of the message of religious harmony, the central theme of his Guru Sri Ramakrishna’s message to the modern world, as so ably expounded by Swami Vivekananda. Therefore it is not built like an Indian temple. Each of its four towers on the roof and the small tower at the entrance to the auditorium is architecturally unique. They have echoes of the Shiva temples of Bengal, the Varanasi temple, a medieval Christian church, the Taj Mahal, and a Muslim mosque. The veranda running along the north and east sides of the building on the third floor is lined with sculpted arches in Moorish style.  In addition to the auditorium, the temple housed monk’s quarters and administrative offices. With time came requirements for additional space.

Old Temple Auditorium in the Old Vedanta Temple (Image by Partha Sircar)

Major activity was shifted to the New Temple which was built in 1959 at the northwest corner of Vallejo and Fillmore Streets, a few blocks from the Old Temple. 

The Old Temple was recently subjected to a major renovation, including seismic retrofit, to bring it up to the current Building Code requirements. A  Re-Dedication Ceremony for the Old Temple took place on October 29 (Kali Puja Day) and October 30, 2016, graced by a senior monk from Belur Math and about a dozen monks from all over North America.  

Perhaps now some of us will take a closer look at the Old Temple and try to find out more about it. And that also includes me.

Epilogue

The article above was written about four years ago. Since then, the renovations, including seismic retrofit of the structure, for which the temple was closed for a while, have been completed. A guided tour of the temple was arranged by the Vedanta Society on October 13 and 14, 2018 to mark the reopening after the renovation and seismic retrofit.  As usual, it was conducted by Swami Vedananda, the elderly, very learned American monk, of the Society. I took advantage of the tour on its very first day. 


Partha Sircar has a BE in Civil Engineering from Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a 53-year resident of the United States, including the last 36 years in California. He has worked in several engineering organizations over the years and is now retired for over eight years. He loves to write.

Featured image from Wikimedia commons.

A Shot In the Arm Against COVID: On Record With Gavin Newsom

After one of the most challenging years of our lives, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel—the COVID-19 vaccines are here, and my administration is working to ensure that no community is left behind.

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. They are our best hope to end the pandemic. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is free, even if you’re undocumented or don’t have health insurance.

After the federal government authorized the use of the vaccines back in December, our own Western States Scientific Safety Review Group confirmed that the vaccines are safe. The Panel includes nationally acclaimed scientists, many from California, with expertise in public health.

Although supplies of the vaccine are limited right now, we’re working in close partnership with the federal government to get more vaccines into the state. And we’re working hard to build a system for swiftly and safely vaccinating Californians with equity at the forefront.

While the supply of vaccines is constrained, we’re prioritizing vaccines for the Californians most at risk–including healthcare workers, individuals 65 and older, and workers in education and childcare, emergency services and food and agriculture. That means grocery store workers, restaurant workers, farmworkers, those who work in food processing facilities and many others may now be prioritized. And we’re working to ensure that the communities most impacted by COVID-19–so often the communities of color and essential workers who have been sustaining us through this crisis–can access the vaccine.

We’re investing in community-based organizations and partnering with trusted messengers who have been providing critical services and information to California’s diverse communities during the pandemic so that they can help educate, motivate and activate people to get vaccinated when it’s their turn. We’re also building messaging through a public education campaign, creating in-language content with cultural humility and meeting Californians where they are—literally, through the mobile vaccination sites that have deployed throughout the state to community centers, places of worship and health clinics.

Vaccination sites are being set up throughout the state, and we’re working closely with community partners to make sure that vaccines are distributed to those who have been hit the hardest by this virus.

You may see people in uniform or police protecting vaccine sites. They are here to help Californians get vaccinated and are not immigration officials.

The federal government, under President Biden, has confirmed that they will not conduct immigration enforcement operations at or near vaccine sites or clinics. You should not be asked about your immigration status when you get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Also, your medical information is private and cannot be shared with immigration officials. And, vaccinations do not count under the public charge rule.

All Californians can sign up on myturn.ca.gov to be notified when they are eligible for a vaccine. Eligible individuals in several counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, and San Francisco, can also use My Turn to schedule an appointment, with more counties expected to begin using My Turn for scheduling in the coming weeks. My Turn is also accessible via a toll-free hotline at 1-833-422-4255. Operators speak English and Spanish, and third-party interpretation is also available in 250+ languages. You can also ask your physician or your pharmacy about scheduling an appointment.

After you’ve been vaccinated, it’s still important to wear a mask, wash your hands often and continue to stay six feet apart to protect others in your community who have not yet been vaccinated.

I encourage every Californian to get vaccinated as soon as it’s your turn. Together, we can end the pandemic.


Gavin Newsom is the Governor of California, formerly Lieutenant Governor of California, and Mayor of San Francisco. Governor Newsom is married to Jennifer Siebel Newsom. They have four children: Montana, Hunter, Brooklynn, and Dutch. Newsom has been a pioneer on same-sex marriage, gun safety, marijuana, the death penalty, universal health care, access to preschool, technology, criminal justice reform, and the minimum wage, which has led to sweeping changes when his policies were ultimately accepted, embraced, and replicated across the state and nation.

This article was first published by Ethnic Media Services.

California: The Cure

Legends of Quintessence – a Science Fiction column with a South Asian twist. 

Chapter 1

In a tiny house by the outskirts of Fresno, the morning was very quiet. Twenty years ago such a lull would be constantly interrupted by the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the windmills. Today, the windmill farm had been replaced by an energy farm that used a combination of solar fields and wind tunnels to maximize energy output. Quiet, efficient, and as ugly as could be. This stretch of California had stayed virtually untouched by the development frenzy that had gripped the state for as long as one could remember. 

The silence was broken by the phone

She jumped at the sound. 

Her hands shook as she picked up the phone, not saying anything. 

“Ms. Sana?”

“Yes, who are you?” 

“I am Vink Bhatia from the Center for Disease Prevention: CDP. We are calling from the Richmond center. We would like to call you in for a meeting to advise us.” 

She panicked, trying to breathe normally, “Do I have to come? My case is closed and I have not been involved with the CDP for 26 years now. I have no new information or anything for that matter.”

“No ma’am,” said Vink “We need your help. We have no other hope for what is staring us in the face. Please come and see us this afternoon and I will explain everything.” 

Once she put the phone down, she sobbed fiercely as all the memories she had suppressed came flooding back. 

Twenty-eight years ago, she had graduated from Strafford University, ready to save the world through research on vaccines. She joined the Center for Disease Prevention (CDP) Research Center to work on the development of vaccines for targeted assignments. It was the perfect time to be in a perfect world. The political upheaval of ten years ago was far behind and they finally had a president that came from California.

A woman of mixed ancestral background was voted into Presidency and led the country to financial success and stability through her political tact and focus on science, international relationships, and trade. It was just as well since the world was moving faster towards space exploration and travel. All eyes were shifting from regional and national boundaries to planetary and galactic boundaries.

She joined the team headed by Professor Braun. Her work was a combination of genetic engineering and cloning to develop vaccines. What had become clear to space agencies and companies contracting space missions was that, without vaccines that could trigger the immune system to mirror and overpower microbes in space, humans would be defenseless. In the last two years, there had been seven outbreaks of diseases brought back to Earth by space travelers. They had been hard to contain and three of them had had very sad conclusions with entire communities being quarantined till they were wiped out. Never had the CDP felt the heat like it did then.

The whole world unanimously agreed on the need for accelerated research to develop potent vaccines to protect humanity. Money poured into top research institutes and whole departments sprung like wild mushrooms in monsoon. There was enough funding to last for decades of research and development. 

Chapter 2

She worked on some very bizarre and strange microbes that took a lot of effort to clone, control, and conduct tests on. More than once she and her team had to quarantine themselves, as they worked to contain the aggressive multiplication of microbes.

The worst were the ones that came from the outer asteroid belt beyond the solar system. That part of the belt was where space mining companies really wanted to go for expensive and rare elements. The outer belt was rich in both elements and pathogens due to the increased gravitational forces in that part of the galaxy. 

In her line of work, she would often assist astronauts, lifting planetary dust off of their gear before they went into the sterilization chambers. She knew the frequent travelers by name and they joked and shared stories each time they met her.

This winter when Salas came back he was hurt. The official story was that his communication link with base had snapped due to a magnetic storm and a tiny piece of asteroid debris had hit him with moderate speed. When they were alone she looked at him, “Hey man, this time you lost it”, she said as she winked with a smile.

Salas looked up and she recognized the fear in his face.

“Can you shut off the recording for a couple of minutes?” he said.

”What’s up?” she was puzzled and not taking her eyes off him as she used suction to lift off the dirt from his clothes into five separate partitions within the sampler.

“I need to tell someone. They told me on the base not to say a word. But someone has to know …they may be coming to earth?” He paused and then looked up at her, pleading with tears in his eyes, ”Please, can you just give me five minutes?”

She paused and then turned the room to reclaim mode: they had seven minutes before all processes would kick back on, including monitoring and recording. She knew she would have to sign tons of paperwork and instantly regretted doing it. 

Salas gripped her hand and started blurting, “They know that there is some form of life in the outer asteroid belt. They have known for a long time and are hiding it. They have destroyed evidence many times.”

“Hang on there buddy, who’s they, and what kind of life?” Now she was genuinely interested, even if Salas had gone completely cuckoo.

“The mining companies…They think that they understand the aliens and that they can control them. They do not want to abandon the asteroid belts. I met him”, he paused, “I met it while leaving Base 3, which is at the remote end and is not manned. It was flowing fast and at first, I thought it was a gas cloud but then it hit my shoulder here”, he said showing the back of his right shoulder. “It was hard as a rock and I fell off and I reached out with my gun. I must have hurt it since I felt deep vibrations through my organs and then it flowed away very fast.” 

“Look at my suit here,” said Salas, pointing to a part on his right side that had a splatter of grey almost rock-solid matter. “I think this came out of it”

She jumped up at his confession. Did he mean that he had alien microbes on his suit?

“Don’t move,” she said urgently and reached for a mini sampler and scooped up the hard substance from his suit. “Salas, who else knows about this?” she asked.

“The controllers on Base 2. I told them about the encounter and they did not seem surprised at all. Instead, they told me to not tell anyone, else they would come after me”.

She told him to take some time off to rest and get his nerves back and promised to not tell anyone. 

Chapter 3

She did not report the alien matter as she should have. She worked on it on her own. She divided the amount into two equal halves and experimented with one half – attacking it with earth microbes to see how they would impact the defense mechanisms of the alien matter.

She used the second half to develop immuno-adaptive vaccines for humans when attacked by microbes from the alien mass. She worked non-stop, knowing that there was no end to the greed of the mining companies. Very soon Earth would be facing aliens without knowing if they were friend or foe.

She wanted to be ready…for people, for humanity…for a future where Earth could protect itself against the aliens that mining companies were aggravating.  

Completely unaware of what was happening in parallel, she worked on her own and was able to create the two medical safeguards with which she could arm the world if the need arose. She was almost done and had to conduct the last tests for replication and vaccine stability.

“Just a couple of days more,” she said to herself as she entered her lab on that fateful day.

They were waiting for her at the lab entrance. They had quarantined her work and she was escorted to a remote intelligence location. During her interrogation, she realized that Salas had cracked and told his team leader that she had taken alien matter from his suit. When she asked what happened to Salas, they gave her blank looks. She knew then what could happen to her. But if she told them everything, there would be no hope for humanity.

No matter what happened to her, she would not tell.

She had stored her work in two places by then. One, in the lab where her tests had failed, and the other where the vaccines had worked. She gave up the location of samples where the vaccines had worked on alien mass. She did not tell them the location of the molecules that had the potential to invade alien mass. She was not going to give up the last line of defense! 

They made an example out of her for the other researchers, calling her a traitor for developing vaccines to protect aliens. Her trial and sentencing was one-sided, military, swift, and ruthless. Eleven years in a military prison in Kansas and they ensured that they found every reason to throw her into solitary confinement as often as possible.

She imagined during these spells that she was the trunk of a twisted old tree, with each solitary confinement increasing her rings. Her branches held the weight of future children that wanted the freedom to be born. And close to her roots lay Salas in a resting position. She would often comfort him and let him know that it was ok.

“You have done your part. You can rest. I am the one that failed and my branches feel heavy with this burden.”

On release, she was only allowed to work non-medical, low-income jobs. She chose to be a hairstylist. Given her record, the only place that employed her was a minimum wage salon in Fresno. Routine: wake up, breakfast, get to work, end at 8 pm, back home, eat and sleep. 7 days a week including Christmas and New Year. It kept her sane, it kept her going for 16 years until the phone rang that morning. 

Chapter 4

She opened the door before the bell rang and walked to the car they had sent for her. The 3 hours drive was heavy with silence and she kept imagining in her mind again and again what awaited her at the CDP. As she stepped into the CDP building, a flood of memories hit her and she shivered involuntarily.

A man standing inside came rapidly to her and dragged her away by her arm to a room in the back of the two-story building.

“I am Vink,” he said as he hastily seated her in a chair.

She nodded, “What do you want?”

“You were experimenting on alien matter and developing vaccines for it?” 

She felt her anger rising, “I was not. I have served a long sentence for a crime that I never committed.”

“Oh, you don’t understand?” he said, “ We will need your help now. The mining companies have been exploiting the outer asteroid belt for a very long. We did not know that they were aware that some of these asteroids hosted an alien form of life that can survive in very harsh conditions. A lifeform so evolved that they can move from being fluid to hard as rock. When they die, they become a rock, almost unrecognizable as a living form.”.

He took out some pictures and showed her, “Look, here is one in the process of transforming from a solid rock form to fluid.” 

“So what do you want from me?”

Vink looked at her, “They are sick of being driven out of their homes and have entered earth using our own spaceships. Earlier, we thought that we had managed to contain them within the transportation base, but news from across California and Texas has me convinced that they are out there in these states.”

“Did you guys keep my experiments and materials in my lab?” She jumped up, “We will need to find it back and I need you to give me a lab and any alien mass you might have collected from the transportation base.”

“What had you developed besides what we found?” asked Vink.

“Well….you see some of Earth’s microbes can cause a lot of damage to them and are hard to create vaccines against. How many types do we have?” she motioned. 

“We have three types: two from combinations of flu and a very old skin plague against which all humans today have immunity and one that impacts their external layer”, Vink replied.

“Let’s work with the two combinations and forget the skin diseases…we need lethal diseases, not tame ones.” She stopped and turned sharply to him, “You don’t understand do you?” Vink stared at her.

“Look, they are able to change their form from fluid to solid by diffusing liquids and gases. But when they have to change from solid to fluid form they need to absorb these gases through their outer layer. If that outer layer malfunctions, they can no longer change back to fluid form and are rendered immobile. That is when we can infect them with our microbes”. 

“Stop staring at me and let’s get to work. We have a lot to do…first I will need to replicate these microbes at a mass scale and once we have done that we will need to distribute the vaccines as well,” she said, exasperated. 

Vink looked excited and confused at the same time, “We have not been able to develop vaccines yet. We are working on it but need more time. I am afraid we will lose some people but we are looking to quarantine the two states if needed.”

She looked up from the table and spoke slowly as a matter of fact, “Yes, I know that. I have the vaccine ready. I had it ready before they took me to prison. All we need to do is mass produce it.”

Vink sat down and took a few moments to absorb this. “So you did? Where did you?…They sent you to prison…And all the time you were….”

She stood up restlessly, “Vink, take me to a lab. We can’t waste time chatting!”


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

Iconoclasm Is an Expression of Fanaticism

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

After he was killed by an assassin’s bullets almost 73 years ago on a cold January day in Delhi, the locals found a decapitated statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Davis, California’s Central Park. The 6’3” tall, 950-pound bronze statue that once stood in the same park was mutilated and disfigured on January 27, 2021. The statute of Gandhiji “appeared to have been sawed off at the ankles, and half its face was severed and missing,” reports said. The statue was installed in 2016, a gift from the Indian Council of Cultural Relations.

It wasn’t the first time a statue of one of the greatest proponents of ahimsā (Sanskrit, non-violence) in modern times was desecrated and disfigured in the Land of the Free. Barely a month ago, in December 2010, in Washington, DC, another Mahatma Gandhi statue was vandalized. Khalistani groups defaced Gandhiji’s statue that stands in front of the Indian Embassy. BLM Protestors also defaced Gandhiji’s statue in London’s Parliament Square. in June 2020, and wrote “racist” on it.

Iconoclasm is an expression of fanaticism and intolerance, and images are often destroyed for religious and political purposes. The destruction is a crude reminder of a weaponized intolerant ideology currently sweeping through the American landscape and elsewhere. However, the ideology of such brutality has its antecedents in history, which is replete with examples of iconoclastic destructions. Catherine Nixey’s ‘The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World describes in eye-popping graphic details the destruction and gore of the ancient temples of Serapeum in Alexandria and the Parthenon in Athens. 

Chairman Mao Zedong of China ordered the destruction of countless historical monuments and works of art during what is known as the Cultural Revolution. In 2001, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader, ordered the Bamiyan Buddha’s blowing up in Afghanistan. Initially sculpted in 507 CE, this ancient sandstone carving was once the world’s tallest Buddha. Taliban fighters fired at the Buddha with tanks and artillery shells. When that failed, they ordered the planting of explosives to destroy it. Taliban fighters drilled holes into the statue to plant the dynamite. The process of drilling holes blowing up the Buddha image took 25 days to complete. The Islamic State did the same to the temples of Palmyra.

For Indians, Hindus specifically, the massive destruction of temples and the desecration and dismemberment of their deities throughout the past millennia have been an acute source of transgenerational trauma. Among thousands of silent yet an in-your-face reminder of that trauma is the ruins of 26 Jain-Hindu temples in Mehrauli, near Delhi. The Muslim ruler destroyed the temple complex to erect a victory tower and the Dome of Islam Mosque. Meenakshi Jain’s book ‘Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples – Episodes from Indian History details Hindu deities’ desecration, destruction, and preservation at significant risks by the faithful.

Iconoclasm is, primarily, an instrument of power. Its gore intends to instill an element of fear among the masses. Those who desecrated the Gandhi statues had every intention to terrorize the members of the Indian diaspora (and beyond) and exert political pressure. They did just that. Some of these terrorism techniques manifest themselves into blatant Hinduphobia. 

Members of the diaspora across North America and Europe have also received physical and sexual violence threats from the groups behind the desecrations. A Hindu doctor in California received threats for her strong opposition to the Khalistanis. 

“I am increasingly alarmed by the bloodcurdling sectarianism against India. Particularly against Hindus, for whom empirically the VAST majority support pluralism, progress, and peace,” tweeted Shuvaloy Majumdar, a Senior Fellow with MacDonald-Laurier Institute, the Ottawa, Canada-based think tank.

Suhag Shukla, the Executive Director and Co-founder of the Hindu advocacy group Hindu American Foundation (HAF), also tweeted that HAF “had to shut down offices in DC in 2019 after multiple threats when Sikhs for Justice rallied there. “Leave this country or we’ll take care of you,” they said.” Another member of the diaspora was reported in a newspaper saying: “Hinduphobics now have political shelter. Our safety is in jeopardy.”

Beyond some half-hearted press releases and Twitter statements, some very late, most Western leaders, including many high-profile US politicians, including those from the Indian-American community, have remained mute spectators to this barbaric onslaught on Western values of democracy. 


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He writes frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Davis California Rallies to Reinstate Vandalized Gandhi Statue

On January 26, 2021, someone vandalized the Mahatma Gandhi statue in the City of Davis, California USA. The statue in Davis’ Central Park of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the independence leader and father of India, was found vandalized on the grass next to its plinth. It was a tragic act to destroy the Gandhi statue in Davis. Gandhi stands for love and nonviolence and justice for all. The world needs Gandhi’s message now more than ever with wars raging in so many parts of the world.

A large number of peace-loving community members choose peace over violence, love over hatred, and rallied at Central Park at City of Davis California on Sunday, Jan 31st, 2021 in support of Reinstating the Gandhi Statue & condemning the hatred. This car rally and peace vigil was co-hosted by Gandhi Statue for Peace Committee Davis, India Association of Davis (IAD), Indian Association of Sacramento (IAS) & the peace-loving community at large. Hundreds of people urged the City of Davis Administration to find the culprits and bring them to justice and call upon the entire world to rise as one entity and destroy the nefarious designs of these hate mongers. They also urged the City of Davis Administration to reinstate the statue at the earliest and provide adequate protection in the future.

The Government of India and the City of Davis have both denounced the vandalism of the Mahatma Gandhi statue. A statement released by the Indian government’s Ministry of External Affairs said “it strongly condemns this malicious and despicable act against a universally respected icon of peace and justice” and has called upon the U.S. Department of State to investigate the incident.

The White House condemns the recent vandalism of a Mahatma Gandhi statue in California’s Davis, said Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday. “We would certainly have concerns about the desecration of monuments of (Mahatma) Gandhi. We would condemn the desecration and watch it closely,” Psaki said during a briefing on Monday.

Davis mayor Gloria Partida attended the Gandhi Statue vigil along with vice-mayor Lucas Frerichs and city council members Dan Carson and Will Arnold. The City of Davis issued a statement on the matter that “The City of Davis condemns the vandalism that destroyed the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Central Park. We do not support any actions that include the destruction of property. We sympathize with those who are grieving the destruction of the statue and promise a thorough investigation and full accountability for those who committed this crime.”

If we have learned nothing from the tragic events of recent weeks it is that senseless acts of hatred and violence are never the answer, which Gandhi and my father affirmed through fasting and their lifetimes of struggle. The statue that was desecrated in Davis symbolizes the truth Gandhi expressed: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Let us reject this act of intolerance and vandalism, said Paul F. Chavez, President, Cesar Chavez Foundation & Son of Cesar Chavez.

“In California, Davis is a mega college-town dominated by bright students and scholars. Such sudden insurrection and the vandalizing statue of national importance is quite disturbing, highly unacceptable, especially during these unprecedented times. We want perpetrators of this criminal act to be brought to justice”, said Vikram Rao, President of Student Association at UC Davis.

It is shocking and disappointing to read of the vandalization of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi by unknown assailants in Davis, California. Gandhi was a man of peace and goodwill who inspired millions of people around the world — including Martin Luther King Jr. — to practice nonviolence. For a gifted monument to his memory to be violently debased and destroyed is a cowardly act of ignorant people. It is a shameful mark against the good name of the community of Davis and the perpetrators should be found and punished. The Mahatma was cut down by a violent man in 1948, and now once more he suffers the ignominy of a mindless and irresponsible attack, noted Professor Robert Sellers, former Chair of World Parliament of Religions (the same organization that was addressed by Swami Vivekananda in 1893).

“I am shocked and deeply saddened to hear about the desecration of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Davis, California. Gandhiji is universally known and revered as one of the great icons of peace and harmony, and the fine statue erected with the help of the Government of India and the city of Davis was a civic reminder of his timeless importance and relevance. It is not just the Indian community in the USA and the world who feel violated by this senseless act of hate and of violence. All lovers of peace and civic order have also been attacked. It is my fervent hope and prayer, as a longtime student and admirer of Gandhi, that the perpetrators of this crime will be apprehended and brought to justice. But beyond that, I hope that this vandalism will serve as an occasion for making his universal message of peace and love better known. As he himself famously said: ‘When I despair, I remember that all through history, the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall’ ”, said Joseph Prabhu Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus) at California State University, also Los Angeles Trustee Emeritus – Parliament of the World’s Religions.

At the peaceful rally and vigil in Davis.

Sham Goyal, a retired UC Davis professor who has lived in Davis for 52 years, is the man behind the installation of the Gandhi statue. At the vigil event, several aggressive young members appeared arguing with 70 plus-year-old Goyal. A police complaint has been logged with Davis Police Department, citing an aggressor from the opposing group for behaving inappropriately with event organizers.

The 6-foot-tall, 950-pound bronze Gandhi’s statue was gifted in 2016 to the City of Davis by the Government of India. After a public comment period, the Davis City Council voted 3-2 to move ahead and install the statue. “It’s a symbol of peace,” Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson said at that time. An unveiling ceremony was held on Oct. 2, 2016, Gandhi’s birthday, which is commemorated each year as an International Day of Nonviolence. Since then, the statue has been a target of repeated protests and vandalism.

Many local volunteers and supporters have helped in conducting Gandhi’s Statue Reinstatement Rally & Vigil event successfully at Davis. Organizers thank all who have come to rally and visit for reinstating Gandhi Statue rally and vigil. Organizers appreciated the participants for maintaining peace, calmness & professionalism despite aggression by violent forces.

Gandhi is our national figure, world figure. He was for peace, he was for non-violence, and he is the father figure for India. We ask for the denouncement of the vandalism against our Patriarch.


IAS started a petition denouncing the Gandhi Statue vandalism and urged Davis City Council, Davis Police Department, and FBI to take action. IAS encourage readers to check out and sign the petition here: http://chng.it/BQFKW9HfwT or https://tinyurl.com/GandhiPetitionIAS

Governor Newsom on Staying Housed and Staying Healthy

As November approaches, millions of Americans are preparing for the most consequential election of our lifetimes. So much is at stake, and I encourage all Californians who can cast a ballot to take this opportunity to shape the future of our country.

But it’s also a time of dread for people who are having a hard time financially. The first of the month is approaching, and rent is coming due.

If you are struggling to make rent and worried about eviction, know that you are not alone. In the Capitol, we are working hard to help you keep a roof over your head, and there are new resources and protections available to you right now.

Tackling the housing crisis in California has been a priority for me since my first days in office. Access to safe and affordable housing is a cornerstone of the California Dream, one that must stay in reach of all Californians. For decades, the high cost of housing in California has been making it harder for families to get by, much less get ahead. Last year, we took action to help more Californians stay in their homes by enacting the strongest renter protections anywhere in the nation.

But the COVID-19 pandemic presented us with even more challenges. Millions of Californians are potentially facing eviction this fall due to the impact of COVID-19—because they’ve lost jobs or hours, gotten sick or faced new costs like childcare. An eviction or foreclosure is always devastating, but it takes on a new danger amid a pandemic, when having a place to stay home and stay safe is so important.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us, it has not affected all of us equally. The impacts of COVID on lives and livelihoods have had disproportionate impacts on our diverse communities. Census data from July 2020 showed that, of all California renters who had fallen behind on rent, three-quarters were Latino or Black.

In partnership with the Legislature, we passed a bill to help people who had fallen behind on rent if they were impacted economically by COVID.

So if you owe rent from March 2020 through today because you were affected by COVID – if you lost your job, got sick or had your hours cut – you are protected from being evicted if you can take a few simple steps.

Here’s how it works.

If your landlord gives you a notice to “pay or quit” – saying you have a certain amount of time to pay the rent you owe, or you have to move out – but you can’t pay the full amount because you were affected by COVID, you can fill out a document and give it to your landlord.

It is called the Tenant Distress Form, and you can find it on our new HousingIsKey.ca.gov website. It is available in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Sign it and don’t delay. You must give your landlord this document within 15 days after you receive the “pay or quit” notice to be protected from eviction.

You still owe the past rent, but if you cannot pay full rent because of COVID, you can’t get evicted for any rental debt that accrued between March and August of this year.

And so long as you further pay at least 25 percent of the rent due between September of this year and January of next year, then you cannot be evicted for unpaid rent for that period, either.

While this bill will give tenants some room to breathe, it is not permanent. As of now, the protection for evictions lasts only until February 1, 2021.

That’s why we’ve been continuing to advocate for action from the federal government to help protect renters. We have made remarkable progress in helping more Californians keep a roof over their heads during this emergency, but even a state as large and influential as ours cannot tackle a national crisis on our own.

We continue to ask the federal government to help us protect renters and homeowners, as well as other important steps like extending unemployment insurance and fully funding essential services like health, nutrition, education, and childcare. We have also asked for support for state and local governments that are battling COVID-19 and facing difficult choices about their budgets.

Without federal support for renters and homeowners, anyone out of a job, behind on their housing payments, or struggling with medical bills will potentially face the prospect of losing their home. That’s not right, it’s not fair and it’s not good for our economy or communities.

Investing in our renters can make a big difference around the country. It would help stabilize the housing market, help America recover from the devastating economic impacts of the pandemic, and keep people in their homes.

No matter what happens in this election or in D.C., California will keep doing everything in our power to help everyone stay safe, healthy and housed during this crisis – because all Californians deserve a place to call home.

You can find more information about your rights and get access to low- or no-cost legal help at https://lawhelpca.org/


Gavin Newsom is the Governor of California, formerly Lieutenant Governor of California and Mayor of San Francisco. Governor Newsom is married to Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Newsom has been a pioneer on same-sex marriage, gun safety, marijuana, the death penalty, universal health care, access to preschool, technology, criminal justice reform, and the minimum wage, which has led to sweeping changes when his policies were ultimately accepted, embraced, and replicated across the state and nation.

The article is published with permission from the original author

Featured Image by Gage Skidmore.

Voters’ Pennies Could Save Caltrain

COVID-19 is hitting everyone hard, including Caltrain, the Bay Area’s commuter train line.

On Nov.3, Measure RR will give voters in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties the opportunity to bring Caltrain back from the brink of closing down.

Before COVID, the train system was carrying 65,000 riders – 4,600 per hour each way, on average – between its 32 stations on tracks stretching from Gilroy to San Francisco.   By doing so, it was replacing an estimated four freeway lanes’ worth of traffic and 400 million driving miles every year.

On a daily basis, that’s 10,000 vehicles on Bay Area roads and 200 tons of carbon dioxide in the air that Caltrain’s presence eliminates.

But with COVID, Caltrain has lost 95% of its ridership, and is in danger of having to shut down. 

With their fares, passengers provide about 70% of Caltrain’s operating budget.  The rest comes from San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties, all of whom are facing their own economic struggles this year and are not obligated to contribute. The funding formula is based on matching contributions from each county augmented by a calculation of the percentage of Caltrain riders from each.

That arrangement was made when local governments took control of the system after Southern Pacific decided to opt out of the commuter train business in the 1980s and was considering closing down the system, the seventh-largest train system in the country and a fixture of Bay Area transportation for more than a century (1863).

A slight majority of Caltrain riders identify as Asian (40%), Latinx (12%), or Pacific Islander, American Indian, Middle Eastern or other, with the remaining 48% white, according to Caltrain’s most recent survey, in November 2019 (https://tinyurl.com/CaltrainRiders).

The popularity of commuter trains has risen and fallen over the years. For instance, although ridership doubled between 2005 and 2015, Caltrain had to make cutbacks during the recession in 2010, but the availability of public transit has been key to planning decisions on where to build housing on the Peninsula, and helpful in an era of growing concern over climate change.

Passing Measure RR will require support from two-thirds of the voters in San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco combined. It calls for an eighth-of-a-cent — .0125% — increase in sales tax for the next 30 years, with food and medicine exempted, along with other necessities.

Measure RR is expected to provide $108 million annually. Currently, Caltrain is running an $18.5 million deficit after receiving $41.5 million from the federal CARES Act earlier this year.

Surveys show that at least 70% of Caltrain’s passengers expect to get back on board once the pandemic recedes, but if the train system does shut down, getting it restarted will be costly and time-consuming – more than two years and $150 million, according to one independent estimate (https://tinyurl.com/CaltrainRestart).

Advocates point out that most transit systems already have “dedicated” funding sources that Caltrain does not, and that providing one such as Measure RR proposes will enable Caltrain to keep running and eventually proceed with plans (https://caltrain2040.org) to modernize, expand the frequency and geographic reach of its trains and provide greater access via reduced fares for target populations such as students, seniors and working-class passengers, who disproportionately rely on public transit.

Caltrain is currently offering low-income riders a 50% discount in a pilot program that Measure RR funding would allow to continue. The funding would also allow Caltrain to expand the train system’s utility to underserved communities by running more trains at midday and other non-peak commuter times, improving access to other transit systems and to bicycle riders and by staving off future fare increases.

“Caltrain is an absolutely critical part of the Bay Area transportation system, and shutting it down would be catastrophic for our economy and our working families,” said Assemblymember David Chiu, who represents San Francisco.  “It’s our responsibility to ensure that Caltrain isn’t another casualty of this devastating pandemic, and do whatever we can to preserve public transportation for all of our citizens.”

Measure RR has garnered endorsements throughout the communities and businesses Caltrain serves – from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto, Brisbane, Burlingame, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, San Carlos, Portola Valley, Los Gatos, to the Sierra Club, Sustainable Silicon Valley, the South Bay Labor Council, the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area and the Bay Area Council and more (https://tinyurl.com/MeasureRREndorsements). Also on board are newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle, San Mateo Daily Journal and San Jose Mercury News. 

 

Vote YES on Measure RR — Rescue Caltrain

Dear Voter,

Vote YES on Measure RR — Rescue Caltrain

CALTRAIN— a vital lifeline for commuters between San Francisco, the Peninsula and Silicon Valley — is on the brink of shutting down. It relies largely on fares, and ridership has plummeted because of the pandemic. But thousands of essential workers who don’t have the luxury of working from home rely on it every day, and once the pandemic ends commuter demand for Caltrain services will return.

Measure RR would provide Caltrain with a dedicated funding source, help provide faster and more frequent trains and ensure it remains an affordable option for all types of riders. Measure RR will also reduce traffic congestion, removing thousands of cars from highways every day. Fewer cars on our roads means less pollution in the air we breathe.

Measure RR is a 1/8 cent sales tax. If approved it would add a penny to an $8 purchase of gas and generate $108 million annually. It requires 2/3 support from voters in all three counties—Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco. If approved it will last for 30 years and can only be renewed by voter support.

Rescue Caltrain, relieve traffic, reduce pollution. Vote YES on Measure RR

Committee to Save Caltrain, Yes on Measure RR, sponsored by civic and environmental organizations, a coalition of business, labor and transit advocacy groups. Committee major funding from

Herzog Contracting Corp

John Doerr

 Prologis
For more information, visit: https://rescuecaltrain.org/faqs/

 

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Does Prop 22 Do Justice for the Gig Workers?

Forum – A column where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

Does Prop 22 Do Justice to the Gig Economy? No!

In 1959, despite graduating at top of her law class at Columbia, Ruth Bader Ginsberg had a hard time finding jobs because she was a mother. She, later on, went on to work on gender equality laws over the next decades. As a result, today any reference to an employee’s sex in the workplace decisions irrespective of their capabilities will land employers in a world of legal trouble. At its core AB5 is about economic inequality in the workplace. 

Just like gender equality laws from the 70s, AB5 can appear burdensome to employers. On the other hand, Proposition 22 at its core is about Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and other gig economy companies trying to get away with an awful business model of counting their employees as a variable cost. The ads for Prop 22 mischaracterize the drivers as only part-time workers who already have a full-time job.

Based on my personal experience on multiple Uber rides this is completely untrue. These Drivers depend on UBER for a substantial if not all of their income. And based on my conversations with them they barely earn a minimum wage and have no allowance for the depreciation of their cars. Never mind health coverage.  Uber makes it a policy to lobby and pressure lawmakers in every city to support their flawed business model.

Despite this, their stock is down 20% from IPO in May 2019 and have a 1.6B loss against revenue of just 2.6B. I imagine other rideshare companies are probably in similar shape.  Further with self-driving cars fast approaching its only a matter of time before Uber goes driverless making this move a short-term gimmick to support their flagging stock price.  A favorite argument of conservatives is why have worker regulations at all why not let everyone work for “themselves”. This is euphemistically called the right to work in many states especially the southern states.  In 2008, a detailed study of the RTW states was done by the National Education Council and the findings of the study are very damning. The RTW states have: a higher poverty rate of 14.4% versus the 12% in others, lower per capita income of 38K versus 44K, and a higher rate of uninsured people. The uninsured rate differential is probably even higher today because many of these very states rejected Obamacare Medicaid expansion.  Sustainable economic activity is created as a result of entrepreneurship coupled with good regulation. The choice should not be between no job and a bad job.  

Having said that AB5 is far from perfect. The issue with Prop 22 is that it is a proposition.  We have bi-annual elections and representative democracy – the proposition process just circumvents the legislative process.  So I recommend a no vote on 22.

Mani Subramani is a veteran of the semiconductor equipment industry. He enjoys following politics and economics.

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Does Prop 22 Do Justice to the Gig Economy? Yes!

In these times of rampant unemployment, gig jobs at Uber, Lyft, Doordash, etc. are providing a lifeline to over a million Californians. Prop 22 will eliminate these jobs as the businesses cannot afford to treat these workers as employees and pay for benefits. Prop 22 preserves the right of these drivers to be independent contractors, something that is supported 4:1 by these drivers. The CA Chamber of Commerce and Silicon Valley Group are among others urging a Yes vote on Prop 22. Gig employment offers flexibility and freedom for workers to set their own hours and also work part-time.

Gig employment is going to be the main employment engine of the future. Governor Newsom should immediately campaign for a Yes vote on Prop 22 and ensure its passage. The livelihood of more than a million Californians depends on it. 

Please vote YES on Prop 22.

Rameysh Ramdas is a resident of the SF Bay Area and has a keen interest in Politics and Current Events. 


Have ideas for what our Forum columnists should debate? Send a note to editor@indiacurrents.com

Connecting to Nature is Good for Public Health

The Bay Area is a great place to live in. It is blessed with progressive land planning that has set aside vast open space areas for recreation. Measures, like Measure Q and now T, to be voted in by the people, ensure that open spaces in Santa Clara Valley stay protected and accessible.

During the lock-down, families truly appreciate the value of access to public parks and open spaces. 

Atulya Sarin, Professor of Santa Clara University lost his beloved 12 year old dog Bufar Bryant Sarin last year. During the pandemic Sarin yearned to be outdoors . “I truly understand how my dog Bufar felt,” says Atulya Sarin with a smile, “I can’t wait for 5pm when I can go for my walk.” 

What helped families like Professor Sarin’s to escape to the outdoors was Measure Q, a $24 parcel-tax that was approved in 2014 by voters. It generated approximately $7.9 million per year, thereby enabling the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority to nearly double protected space in the county to more than 26,000 acres.

 It also preserved about 1,000 acres in North Coyote Valley, so Santa Clara Valley’s residents had open spaces and lands to escape to during lockdown.

Measure T, on the November 2020 ballot, renews Measure Q – keeping the parcel tax at $24 – but with the clause that it will renew automatically each year unless ended by voters. 

All funds are spent in the cities of San Jose, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Campbell, Morgan Hill, and in the unincorporated portions of Santa Clara County.

“We are in a great place and the reason we are in a great place is because measure Q gave us resources to buy up land,” said state Assemblymember Ash Kalra at a virtual meeting organized by Ethnic Media Services on October 1. At the end of the day, said Kalra, the land cannot be protected unless it is bought. Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority purchased land to protect it permanently. 

“We can zone land any which way, but a different council can change that. It is critical therefore that in addition to legislation to create a conservation program we must have the Open Space Authority have resources to purchase and protect the land permanently,” he said. 

Coyote Valley

A case in point is Coyote Valley – 7,400 acres of land between the Santa Cruz mountains and the Diablo range. The land is key for flood protection and safeguarding the valley’s ecological livelihood. 

In the 1980s, Apple eyed Coyote Valley as a place to build its world headquarters. In the 1990s, Cisco Systems tried to build a massive campus there. Environmental groups, who said the area — currently used by farmers and wildlife — should be left in its natural state, fought both proposals.

“We all know a little bit of development causes a domino effect and next thing you know it really becomes a totally different type of landscape. 

Measured Response

The pandemic and wildfires have choked California this year.   

“Scientists are telling us that we need to protect 30 percent of the land to keep global warming at bay,” said Kalra. “The more land we can protect the more we can combat global warming. We are seeing how human behavior is connected to all these tragedies,” he said.

South Bay leaders at the press briefing urged a vote for Measure T, which would preserve a tax used for parks and open areas.

“We need to protect this open space for the preservation of a sustainable future for California,” said state Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a long-time environmental advocate. 

Expanding public access to nature improves public health  “Spending as little as two hours a week in nature, 15-20 minutes a day, can improve self-reported health and well-being,” says Sadiya Muqueeth, director community health at the Trust for Public Land.

“We can fix it! We created it and we can fix it,” said Kalra 


Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

 

Former Mayor Speaks Against Measure RR

The CEO and board of directors of Caltrain are doing a major “dis-service” to the residents of San Mateo, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties with Measure RR.

Their proposal to address and remedy the Caltrain loss of revenue problem is to place on the backs of the total population another tax initiative, while only a limited few will directly benefit if this measure passes.

One, the tax is regressive and negatively impacts the families with household incomes of $50,000 or less, which is more than two-thirds of families in these 3 counties, significantly harder than the families who are directly benefiting from this measure passing.

Remember Caltrain ridership, 80% of those individuals have a household income greater than $200,000.

Two, the measure is asking the public to commit to this tax for 30 years…..Caltrain, is dying, a dinosaur, even before the pandemic, ridership has been steadily decreasing….now after the pandemic, the world has changed….we work from home, our bay area’s companies will never return to employment levels pre-pandemic, and ridership will never approach yesterday’s numbers.  

The bottom line is, the board and CEO have failed their fiduciary responsibility……they should have foreseen this coming at least 5 years ago ……they did not and did nothing…now with their backs up against the wall, they offer a remedy that lacks any strategic thought, does not consider today’s technology direction, no consideration for the existing and future work patterns,  and chose to ignore the impact another tax has on the lowest wage earners, to name a few. One question I have is why no reduction in headcount, salary expense,  or their fully paid pensions and medical benefits?

We should not suck out of the public another $100,000 million annually,  taxes to provide a service for less than 1% of the population….let me remind you that 1% are the wealthy 1%……and again,  make this law for 30 years!  This board and CEO have not demonstrated they are worthy stewards the public can trust….and the measure has no allowance for independent oversight and reporting back to the public.

Think of the impact these tax dollars could have on improving our school, housing, health care, youth employment training, and programs, etc.

Before I close, let me address the key selling point of this Measure…….”it will result in less traffic on our freeways”.  An empathic No, Caltrain’s impact on reducing traffic congestion is and will be very minimal, less than a 1% reduction may be achieved if this measure passes. It is expensive to ride and inconvenient, for the majority of us to even consider.

In closing, the proponents of this measure were also not transparent in the pre-work/surveys that they used to gauge the level of public support…they did not inform the public they were seeking approval of a measure that will be the law for the next 30 years.  Why place this tax on the backs of our children?

I hereby humbly request the board to have the moral compass to withdraw this request to the public.

Sincerely yours,

Jim Lawrence

Former Mayor, Foster City


Jim Lawrence is the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Expertus Inc. A change agent by definition, is active in his community, having served as Mayor of the city of Foster City, appointed to numerous county & Statewide boards and committees, and elected to the board of several nonprofit organizations. 

Featured image found here and license here.