Tag Archives: #ritumarwah

Will Bay Area Homeowners Split Their Lots To Make Room For More Families?

As prices of homes shoot up, Bay Area residents fear their adult children may not be able to buy homes in the Silicon Valley neighborhoods they have grown up in. A solution to the housing crisis could be splitting your single family home into apartments for multiple families.

“We have seen other cities, like London and Delhi, solve the problem of housing by splitting the family home among the children. My wife’s single family home in Delhi morphed into three apartments with each sibling occupying a floor. Surely in California, where land is scarce, this is a possible solution,” says Rajiv, father of two and a resident of the suburb of Cupertino.

Thursday September 16th, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed three housing-related bills into law opening up many single-family zones to just such a development. Senate Bills 9 and 10 which take effect Jan. 1, 2022, allow small multifamily buildings on single-family lots.

Senate Bill 9, technically allows as many as two duplexes, two houses with attached units, or a combination — capped at four units — on single-family lots across California, without local approval. 

The law requires cities to approve up to four housing units on what was a single-family lot. They would also have to approve splitting single-family lots so they could be sold separately.

Property owners seeking to split a lot would have to swear that they plan to have one of the housing units as their principal residence for at least three years. The provision that a property owner live in one of the units for three years after a lot split is designed to ease fears that the bill could prompt real estate speculators and corporations to buy up single-family homes in low-income communities, fueling gentrification and displacement. The new split lot can’t be less than 1,200 square feet. 

The law won’t apply in historic districts or in environmentally sensitive areas, like wetlands and certain high fire-risk areas. It won’t apply if a house has been occupied by a renter within the last three years, a provision intended to prevent tenant displacement.



The second bill, SB 10, makes it easier for local governments to rezone areas near transit centers for multifamily housing of up to 10 units per parcel. Cities can choose to streamline construction of small apartments near transit. Or not. SB 10 is completely voluntary. SB 10 allows local governments to upzone without going through a lengthy California Environmental Quality Act review or face CEQA lawsuits, which can delay projects and make them more expensive. Local governments can also use SB 10 to override voter-imposed land-use restrictions that would block such small residential buildings.

The last in the trio of bills, SB 8, extends until 2030 the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, which “accelerates the approval process for housing projects, curtails local governments’ ability to downzone and limits fee increases on housing applications. 

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, author of SB 8, said on Twitter that her bill ensures “that California’s local governments can’t just say ‘no’ or add unnecessary delays to housing that already meets local rules.”

Matthew Lewis, Communications Director at California Yimby said at the Ethnic Media Services briefing, “ Zoning rules had made it impossible to build affordable housing. Cities have been struggling with these problems whose roots lay in the decisions taken in the 1970s when certain areas were down zoned and lower income families were pushed out. They knew what they were doing….creating exclusive communities. In 1972 they cut the number of people living in LA by more than half. 50 years later we are facing these housing challenges.” 

Lewis said that when a person who earns $100,000 a year and still qualifies for housing subsidies there is something wrong with the picture. With the statewide end to exclusionary single family housing, people who are competing with each other to buy single family homes will be able to buy smaller homes. These homes will be more affordable. It is an incredibly important first step…,” he said.

SB 9 opens up new homeownership opportunities at more attainable price points for prospective purchasers, who would be able to apply for a traditional mortgage to buy the home. This ability to create duplexes and/or split the lot and convey new units with a distinct title would allow property owners to pursue a wider range of financing options.

While upzoning can help the whole housing market go down in price, it can also unlock value for existing homeowners.

Samir Gambhir, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) researcher and manager of Opportunity Mapping program at the Othering & Belonging Institute said at the Ethnic Media Services briefing, “Where we live determines our life outcomes. Access to jobs, access to schools, access to safe neighborhoods, all these are determined by where we live.” 

“Restrictive zoning has led to opportunity hoarding,” said Gambhir.

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

Photo by Maximillian Conacher on Unsplash


Are Indian Americans Gold Diggers?

The jingle of our mother’s gold bangles sprinkled gold stories into our ears with every rhythmic thump on our infant backs. Sanjena Sathian, a 2019 graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, in her book Gold Diggers taps into that part of the Indian American psyche. Being considered for a series to be produced by Mindy Kaling, the fiction has won many awards as the author’s first novel.

The story starts with an Indian American high schooler, Neil Neeraj Narayan, is growing up in suburban Atlanta. Neil, his sister Prachi and their friends are pursuing dreams in a world their Indian-immigrant parents are “ad-justing in”.

The parents from the land, where the gold-laden Sindhu river flowed, have crossed many oceans to raise their children in a land that Christopher Columbus mistakenly thought was India (sone ki chidiya). Now the gold spinners are chasing the American dream.

The parent’s and children’s ambitions, which like the gold deer that Lord Ram chased, are to be achieved with any magic potion they can drum up in the basements. A magic potion was brewed out of gold, not the turmeric latte kind but the real glint in the ear gold by the Dayal mother and daughter duo, Neil’s neighbors. This lemonade stirred up latent ambitions in the consumers. It helped them steal victories from the owners of the gold ornaments.

“Brewing the perfect lemonade was a matter of taking luck and specific talents from another person and drinking them down.” 

Neil, Anita, and her mother are the alchemists of the brew.

“Anita wants to go to Harvard too,” I said. That briefly silenced Wendi Zhao….

“Wendi.,” I said. “What’s after Harvard? 

“What do you mean?’”

“Just that. You get there. To Harvard. What happens next?” 

She looked at me like she had something sour on her tongue.

“Whatever the fuck I want.”

The magic gold lemonade that stirs up ambitions and confidence to aim for Harvard seems to not help them adjust in their homeland, America. It deserts them in social situations. It doesn’t fight white girls “see, because white girls, they don’t even wear gold, white girls they prefer”-hiccup-”they prefer pearls,” says Anita who is attracted to a classmate Sam. “He’d never date me in public,” she says.

Fast forward a decade and, in the second half of the novel, as the highschoolers head to the next stage of their lives the author quotes H.W.Brands from “The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream, “ Had the immigrant known what a task the gold hunting would be, their spirits might have failed.”

The protagonist Neil enters the Golden State. California is where the next phase of their lives plays out. Under the Golden Gate Bridge at Berkeley, Neil delves into the aftermath of the gold rush, studying history “in the land of utopian technofuturists”.

This next phase of their lives reveals the new ambition of their parents.

“They (parents) had accrued additional expectations, ones I did not discover until Prachi (Neil’s sister) fulfilled them. Shaadi-shaadi-shaadi!”

“There had been a few years, in college, when I’d believed in life’s ever-unfolding variety. But now, as my compatriots entered the promotion and canine-adoption and splitting-the-rent and wedding seasons of their lives, reality had narrowed again, with little warning,” says Neil.

Future-oriented South Asian professionals must now use any means necessary to fulfill this desire for marriage. “Believe it or not, they’re-we’re-willing to pay more in the marriage space than any other group,” says Keya, who has launched Dil Day, a matchmaking app for South Asian professionals but is herself “an analog spinster in the era of digital soul mates” Caught as she is in a conundrum of “she can’t be seen using her competitor’s app and can’t really use her own.”

The Santa Clara Convention Center hosts a bridal expo to help those who have succeeded in crossing this Lakshman rekha of marriage. Dazzling gold jewels and Manish lehenga skirts await them. Neil and Anita are hellbent on stealing some of the joy-laden gold jewels from the expo to distill some happiness into their lives when a chase ensues, shots are fired and the gold-laden lehengha skirt disappears into a Honda as the thief Neil absconds.

The novel has all the color of the Indian American immigrant experience and the quintessential wedding also makes an appearance. I can see Mindy Kaling having a lot of fun distilling the tale into a fun-filled movie or digital drama.

Chaitali Sen will be in conversation with Sanjena Sathian on September 23 at 8:30 pm PST. organized by Art Forum SF the event will be hosted by Virtually SALA. It can be seen on youtube.

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


Abhijeet Banerjee’s Nobel Prize-Winning Research Pushes Vaccines in Rural California

Race To Push Vaccines In California’s Rural, Isolated, Diverse Communities.

For Del Norte County, vaccinating a highly dispersed, predominantly rural population has been a challenge. 

Homeless people—including many vets –living alone in the woods or on the streets of Crescent City have not been vaccinated and the death toll rose. 

Del Norte, California’s smallest county in terms of population (28,000), home to Latinx farmworkers, as well as members of the Yurok and Karuk tribes, a tightly knit Hmong community, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state. 

At the far northwest corner of the U.S. state of California, along the Pacific Ocean adjacent to the Oregon border, rural Del Norte County has  43.6% of the population fully vaccinated, as compared with 66% of all Californians.

With the highly transmissible Delta variant, infection rates are rising dramatically, overwhelming the county’s main hospital Sutter Coast. Watch the video.

In the month of August, 95 % of the people on ventilators were unvaccinated, 92% of the people in critical care were unvaccinated and 87 % of the people hospitalized with COVID-19 were unvaccinated. Younger and younger people are getting infected. 

“With the recent surge in the last two weeks our hospital can’t meet the needs of the community,” said Melody Cannon-Cutts, Public Health Program Manager at Del Norte County Department of Health and Human Services, at a briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services on August 27th.

MIT professor Abhijeet Banerjee, whose research on the subject won the 2019 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, assessed the relative efficacy and cost-effectiveness of only improving the supply of infrastructure for immunization, versus improving supply and simultaneously increasing demand through the use of incentives. 

His team found in their research in India that among the several challenges to the uptake of vaccines, their availability was the least of the problems. In India, immunization services are offered free in public health facilities, but the immunization rate remains low. They found that immunization rates for children in rural India jump dramatically (from 5 percent to 39 percent) when their families are offered modest incentives for immunization, such as lentils.

“We conducted a randomized, controlled study of immunization camps in rural India to assess the efficacy of modest, non-financial incentives on immunization rates of children aged 1-3, and compare it with the effect of improving the reliability of the supply of services. Improving the reliability of services improves immunization rates, and small, non-financial incentives have large positive impacts on the uptake of immunization services in resource-poor areas,” said Banerjee.

A year later Del Norte implemented some of the findings of Banerjee’s research. The county has improved the reliability of services and has set up small, non-financial incentives through outreach. 

Miguel Pelayo-Zepeda, the community outreach organizer in Del Norte, spoke of the success of their pop up clinic at the La Joya Deli where English as second language classes, immigration services, and health care services were bundled with the tacos. 

“As we handed tacos out we told them of the weekly vaccination clinic,” he said at the briefing. 

His greatest success was at Alexander dairy farms where he works as a farmhand. A team of nurses came to the dairy farm to vaccinate the workers during their lunch break. They got farmworkers from the other ranch to come over well. 

“Latinx farmworkers working in the fields of Smith River picking lily bulbs had a very busy season. We had to work around their schedules,” said Miguel.

The Del Norte Healthcare District also announced cash incentives to encourage vaccinations.

“Del Norte Vax to Win!” holds weekly drawings of $500, $250, and $100 in two separate categories. The first category is for NEWLY fully vaccinated (second shot received within the last 7 days) only.  The second category is for previously fully vaccinated individuals.  Newly vaccinated people who did not win in the first category will get another chance to win under the “previously fully vaccinated” category for the remainder of the drawings. Must be 18 yrs old to win. Additionally, they are offering youth a gift card of $15 for each shot of vaccine.

As the month of September rolls around and schools reopen, vaccination rates are going up.

“We are at 43.6% fully vaccinated this week. The prior week we had 42% fully vaccinated. Partially vaccinated are at 8.9% and the prior week was 7.8 %,” said Dr. Aaron Stutzan, emergency medicine physician in Crescent City, California. 

“Through its Vaccinate with Confidence initiative, CDC continues to support rural jurisdictions and local partners in their efforts to improve access to, and bolster trust and confidence in, COVID-19 vaccines,” said Bhavini Patel Murthy, MD and Neil Murthy of Center for Disease Control

“Disparities in COVID-19 vaccination between urban and rural communities can hinder progress toward ending the pandemic.”

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


Redistricting Will Reflect The Diverse Face Of America

As U.S. minorities grow to the fifty percent mark, efforts to stifle their voting rights acccelerate.

Sara Sadhwani, one of 14 members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, has her task set out for her. Over the next few months Congressional, State Senate, State Assembly, and State Board of Equalization districts and cities will be adjusting their boundaries to reflect the 2020 Census data. Sara and her Commission are charged with drawing the political boundaries that reflect the new diverse, biracial, more urban/suburban than rural America. They will have to ensure the redistricting is done fairly, that communities of color get a seat at the table of governance and their voices are not muted. 

The census tells our American story since the first survey was conducted in 1790. It’s a count of everyone living in the United States, regardless of background, immigration status or citizenship. It paints a picture of who we are, ensures our political representation and ensures funding for the fundamentals of our lives. 

The 2020 Census revealed an increasingly diverse America. It’s getting closer to being less than fifty percent white non hispanic. 

“Non-Hispanic, white Americans made up 58% of the nation’s population,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic Research at the nonpartisan Pew Research Center at a recent Ethnic Media Services panel presentation. “That is the lowest share that we’ve seen for white non-Hispanic in the United States, ever.”


“The nation has steadily changed over the course of the last five decades,” Lopez said. “The big story here is that there are about 5 million fewer white Americans. 32 states saw their populations rise, but within those states, the White non-Hispanic population fell. Their populations became more diverse.” Meanwhile, the number of Americans who said they are of two or more races also increased (34 million).

Based on these data, political boundaries will be redrawn at the national, state, and local levels over the next several months. 

Districts will adjust to reflect the demographic changes that have occurred so that growing Black, Latino, Asian and Native communities that have historically faced discrimination, have an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidate.

California has been a white minority state since 2000 (the US Census), Non-Hispanic whites decreased from about 76.3–78% of the state’s population in 1970 to 36.5% in 2019.

In 2000 the racial makeup of the nine-county Bay Area was 50 percent non-Hispanic white, in 2010 the Bay Area was 42.4 percent non-Hispanic white and in 2020 the Bay Area was 34.7% non-Hispanic white. 

The trends could fuel more calls for diversity among elected officials, and the data will inform a contentious Congressional redistricting process. 

The U.S. mainland’s only Asian-majority congressional district District 17 is in California’s Silicon Valley. It is currently represented by Ro Khanna

California will redraw its congressional district maps in response to the 2020 census. To see updates click here. San Jose is getting ready to redraw its 10 City Council districts—and will decide whether some populations should be grouped together based on common interests. The Zoom link for public hearings is: https://sanjoseca.zoom.us/j/97678000504.

With California losing a congressional seat for the first time in its history, many political observers are watching which region — and which incumbent politicians — may be disadvantaged by the new maps. The lost district is likely to come out of Los Angeles County, which grew at a slower pace than other parts of the state.

 Sara Sadhwani is working hard to ensure a fair outcome. To ensure fairness she invites participation,  “We need your input on how to draw the political boundaries to empower and optimize civic participation!  @WeDrawTheLines”

“California, Colorado, Michigan and Arizona have independent commissions. It is too late for states who don’t have independent commissions in place to do so now,” said Yurij Rudensky, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School at the EMS briefing.

It is therefore imperative that Congress set up powerful safeguards and legal tools that advocates can use in court to police redistricting. To safeguard our right to vote, two bills currently in Congress —  For the People Act (S1), and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, both with strong bipartisan support, aim to counterbalance voter suppression initiatives.

To fully protect against racial discrimination at the ballot box and to ensure that every voice and vote counts, Congress must pass both laws,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, Interim Executive Vice President for Government Affairs at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. 

On Aug. 24, the House of Representatives approved the John Lewis Act that among other things, seeks to restore section V of the Voting Rights Act that gave the Department of Justice the power to review any proposed legal changes in states with a history of discrimination against voters of color. In the Senate it faces strong Republican opposition.The “For the People Act” was also approved in the House and action is expected on it in the Senate in September.

This bill addresses voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance, and ethics for the three branches of government. Specifically, the bill expands voter registration (e.g., automatic and same-day registration) and voting access (e.g., vote-by-mail and early voting). It also limits removing voters from voter rolls.

The bill requires states to establish independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting. 

It is imperative that these bills pass into law to ensure citizen’s right to vote.

“There are political forces that view the fact that this country is becoming a pluralistic and multi racial one as an existential threat. Democracy itself is being narrowed to exclude certain members of our community,” said Yurij Rudensky.

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


Desi Landlord & Tenants In An Eviction Headlock

Suresh Wadhwani, a Bay Area landlord was surprised by the ruling that allowed his tenants to break their contract with him. They could pay no rent and he was not able to evict them due the pandemic.

California’s Covid-19 rent relief program, Housing Is Key provides protections for renters who are given an eviction notice because they are unable to pay their rent or other charges between March 1, 2020 through September 2021 due to COVID-19-related financial distress. 

“I invested in California in good faith as there was a housing shortage. I took loans and bought properties for low-income residents to live in. Now I am in the position that my conduit loan has come due but my bank refuses to extend loans to me,” he said. 

Wadhwani does not qualify for a loan. He does not meet the risk guidelines of the bank. Forty percent of his tenants are defaulting on rent payments. 

“We have banked with Chase for years but the underwriter is hamstrung by the bank’s guidelines for loan disbursement. My company is now considered a high-risk investment, ” said Wadhwani. He will have to do a fire sale of his property or go into receivership.

At first, only ten percent of his tenants were defaulting on their rent payments but news soon spread and the tenant defaulting percentage climbed up from 10 -20 to 40 percent. Wadhwani is stumped. His contract with the bank stands but he feels his contract with the tenant is not worth the paper it is written on.

As of August 26, landlords are no longer barred from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent because of the pandemic. The Supreme Court blocked the extension of the federal eviction moratorium. However, California is governed by state laws. California’s rent relief program, Housing Is Key stays

In California, this moratorium on evictions is in place till September according to the governor’s office. Tenants who have notified their landlord that they have been financially affected by COVID-19 and are paying at least 25% of their rent per month are safe from eviction till September.

To be eligible for aid, tenants must make less than 80% of the local median income. Median income varies from county to county. The aid takes into account the number of people living in the tenant’s household. In order to prove their eligibility, the tenants can provide documentation, like a recent pay stub or a termination letter, however, it is not required.  As long as they attest in writing that they have been impacted, that is sufficient. They can demonstrate housing instability or risk of homelessness by showing they owe back rent or have an overdue utility bill.

The assistance is available to all renters who meet the eligible income levels, regardless of whether they are legal residents or not. Citizenship status is not a requirement to access rent relief. 

Housing Is Key  provides Emergency Rental Assistance funds to low-income renters and their landlords. The bill expands eligibility even in cases where the tenant may have moved out of their home during the pandemic. The landlord can now apply for back rent. Read more at evictionlab.org 

Wadhwani admits he is getting money from the government for which he has had to file extensive paperwork. Additionally up until June, in order to file the paperwork he had needed to handhold the tenant without whose co-operation and signature the documents could not be filed. Some tenants played hardball and a previously cordial relationship between landlord and tenant has now turned adversarial.

Landlords could look for excuses to remove tenants for cause. They can make a case that the tenant has damaged the property or is making a nuisance in order to evict the tenant. This situation could be encouraging landlords to file complaints with the city for building code violations alleging that the infractions were made by the tenant. 

For instance, the Sunnyvale city office has received letters reporting garbage behind the building owned by Mamie Dairiki on El Camino Real in Sunnyvale.  After an inspection, the city found building code violations in the units. Struggling small businesses (Mamie Dairiki’s tenants), have to pay for the rectifications to meet city requirements. One tenant, Vidya Gurikar of Silver Spoon, a gourmet food caterer who has been hard hit by the pandemic, may have to fork out over $30,000 towards fixing these violations. 

Vidya Gurikar of Silver Spoon

“These changes, made without a permit, were made before we leased this place!” said Gurikar. “It is Pandora’s box. I pay to fix one thing only to find that the city has found another thing built without a permit. The new directives from the city office are crippling,” said a panic-stricken Gurikar who is desperately looking for a way out of this nightmare.

“People have been evicted in retaliation for reporting their landlord or for their children testing positive for lead poisoning,” said Dr. Shawnita Sealy-Jefferson, Principal Investigator and Leader, Social Epidemiology to Eliminate Disparities (SEED) Lab, Ohio State University at a recent Ethnic Media Services panel on the housing crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. “Having someone occupy the rental unit who is not on the rent agreement is cause for eviction. People have been evicted for bogus accusations of damage to the property, damage that would be considered normal wear and tear,” she said. 

“When I have 40 percent of my tenants defaulting,” said Wadhwani, “I can’t possibly make a case for eviction against each tenant on these grounds.” 

After September 30, landlords may be able to proceed with evictions as long as they can prove that they or their tenants have attempted to apply for rent relief.  They must show that they didn’t receive a response on their application from either the state or their tenant, or their tenant doesn’t qualify or meet the income requirements.

Wadhwani thinks that California will extend the eviction moratorium.

“We call on state and local jurisdictions to take every action they can to safeguard their most vulnerable residents. These actions should include permitting evictions for non-payment of rent only after landlords and tenants have sought Emergency Rental Assistance funds,” said Secretary Marcia L. Fudge on the Eviction Moratorium.

California has a rental assistance program in place to pay landlords the rent due. Only 10% of the total aid that people have applied for has been disbursed. The state has distributed only $37.4 million in relief to a little more than 31,641 households so far, an average of $11,844 per household (see Dashboard). The disbursement of $5.2 billion in federal funds earmarked for it, has gone slowly in order to ensure that no duplicate payments are made.  

“Some jurisdictions are not getting the amount of rental assistance that they need to cover the needs of their community,” Francisco Duenas, Executive Director, Housing Now! California said at the Ethnic Media Services briefing. In Los Angeles, the program opened only for one month. More requests were received than the funds allocated. Tenants who missed that window could not apply anywhere. 

“Right now the problem is not that there is no money to help the tenant and the landlords. The problem is administration and bureaucracy, just the processes to get that money out to the people,” said Duenas.

Tenants can apply for emergency rental assistance. If they qualify, the tenant or landlord will receive 100% of the rental debt and the eviction will be stopped, according to the latest California moratorium bill. This will continue to be an option until March 2022. Read more at evictionlab.org

Over 2 million renter households in California reported “little to no confidence” in their ability to pay next month’s rent, according to the latest Household Pulse Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“These tenants don’t need to show any proof of their inability to pay. On the other hand, no bank is going to give me a loan if I have on my record that I defaulted on my loan payment,” said a harried Wadhwani.

“Many tenants will move out because they don’t want an eviction on their record as it will limit their chance of getting housing in the future,” said Francisco Duenas.

Both the landlord and tenant are bound in a headlock of survival. California’s shortage of affordable housing is the real loser in the process. 

“I am wary of taking a risk in the California housing market. I may look at investing in Reno, Nevada,” said Wadhwani.

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


Will Schools Reopen Safely For Our Kids?

Manju Bansal and his wife Sheila Santwani heard with dismay about the death of 4 teachers from COVID-19 within 24 hours in Broward County, Florida. Their son Avi (15) and daughter Amiya (13) from Willow Glen, (CA), are about to resume in-person classes, just as the Delta, Lambda and other Covid -19 variants  are making their way into the community. 

K-12 schools reopen on August 16. Terrified parents are preparing to send children to school knowing that an estimated 93 million people in the country, who are eligible for shots, have chosen not to get them. 

“We are in a critical situation now. We’ve had 615,000-plus deaths and we are in a major surge now as we’re going into the fall, into the school season,” said Manju Bansal, quoting Dr. Fauci Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

According to Fundstrat’s daily update, only 50% are fully vaccinated nationwide, and in California, 54% are fully vaccinated as per the State Health Dept. Covid cases have increased 10 times since June 30th. The seven day case average is 108,133 cases a day while 49 days ago the case average was 10,477. In California the increase in cases since June 5th is 14 times higher, from 798 to a 11,244 seven day case average.

Forty eight million unvaccinated children under 12 are too young to be eligible for a shot until at least fall. They make up 15 percent of the total population in the United States. Once they are eligible, it is uncertain how many will get shots; even some vaccinated parents are hesitant to inoculate their children.

Kids are heading back to school across the country

A New York Times report states “Unless the nation finds a way to persuade the unwavering, escaping the virus’s grip will be a long way off, because they make up as much as 20 percent of the adult population.” About 30 percent of the adult population in the United States has yet to receive a shot, and about 58 percent of those ages 12 through 17 have yet to receive a shot.The rate of vaccinations across the country has slowed significantly since April.

Nationwide, about 97 percent of people hospitalized with Covid-19 are unvaccinated, federal data shows.

In Los Angeles County where only 53 percent are fully vaccinated, school administrators, teachers and doctors try to assuage the fears of the families. Speakers at an August 4th Ethnic Media Services briefing on protecting campus communities as schools reopen, shared the safety measures in place to protect students, their families, teachers, administrators from COVID-19 – including mask mandates, vaccine availability, ventilation, social distancing, testing, mental health counseling. 

Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, Chair of LA County Board of Supervisors and 1st District Supervisor has worked tirelessly to lower barriers and increase access to education for all residents, regardless of where they live and urged people to get the vaccine, “Three highly effective vaccines are available to slow the spread and save lives. Getting vaccinated is the easiest task to stay safe. It is important all children above the age of 12 be vaccinated.” Vaccinatelacounty.com

“Back to school is an exciting time,” she said. “We want to welcome everyone back safely. The majority of children are looking forward to returning to school. Parents of only 5 to 6 percent of the students are not ready to send their children to school yet and for them we have set up independent study plans,” said Superintendent Dr. Debra Duardo, LA County Office of Education at the EMS briefing. “Teachers have been trained to be trauma informed.”

Safety measures and mitigation strategies like masking, disinfecting, washing hands, vaccinations have been diligently followed by the school districts, said the Superintendent. “In the face of the fluid and changing situation, districts have plan A and plan B. If anything changes we will keep the parents informed and work closely with the Department  of Health,” she said. 

Dr. Nava Yeganeh, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Santa Monica pointed out that 50 % of the school going children aged 12 to 17 have been vaccinated. For children aged 5-12 years old CDC and ACIP will take the decision this fall, based on FDA’s data. “It is very important that those eligible to take vaccines do so in order to protect the ones who are not yet eligible to take the vaccine,” she emphasized.

“Additionally it is important to plan ahead when scheduling appointments for vaccines,” said the doctor. “It takes five weeks from the date of the first dose of the vaccine to be fully protected.” 

“Clear and actionable guidance for parents, children and teachers ensures a safe return of children to schools,” said Dr.Jasmine Eugenio, Pediatric Senior Physician, LA County Department of Health Services at the EMS briefing.

California became the first state in the nation to implement the requirement that teachers and other school employees must either be vaccinated against Covid-19 or submit to regular testing. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday August 11th, “To give parents confidence that their children are safe as schools return to full, in-person learning, we are urging all school staff to get vaccinated. Vaccinations are how we will end this pandemic.”

Both 15 year old Avi and 13 year old Amiya are vaccinated. 

But Avi is reluctant to resume in-person learning. He feels safer at home. 

“He has to go to school,” says Sheila, a realtor and property manager. “Though it was certainly a year that taught them adaptability, resilience and the value of friendships…their learning did suffer. We can’t afford to have the children fall behind in class.”

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


Sitting On The Wrong Side Of The Digital Divide Is Perilous

Access to the Internet is a fundamental human right. It determines those who can participate in an increasingly remote, telecommuting world and those who cannot. When students were seen doing their homework in the parking lot of Taco Bell, the cry for digital equity was bolstered. The pandemic shone a stark light on the perils of the digital divide.

“At the start of the pandemic,” said Anu Wadhwa, a teacher at Mountain View Whisman school district in California “the school’s district office kept a close watch on which students seemed to not be participating in school work. Quick action was taken, and intervention was made to ensure every home sending a child to school had access to the internet.”

“Chromebooks were given to all middle and high school students. As the pandemic rolled out elementary school students were also given Chromebooks. For the students who are homeless, the schools kept some classrooms open where the students could come and do their homework, practicing safe distancing and keeping their masks on.”

“We have been able to close the digital divide to the best of our ability,” said Wadhwa.

“Digital Divide,” a term used to describe the gap between those who have access to computers and the internet and those who do not. The divide is shaped both by the availability of internet services in different regions and the ability of individuals to tap into those services. A person’s location, income, gender, education, language, and age are some of the factors that define their access.

Frequently, low-income communities of color sit on the wrong side of this digital divide. The pandemic spotlighted the divide, made worse by the shutting down of libraries and cafes that allowed many without home broadband to get online.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the then FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the Keep Americans Connected Initiative on March 13, 2020.

In order to ensure that Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity as a result of these exceptional circumstances, the initiative requested broadband and telephone service providers, and trade associations, to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, COVID-19 Telehealth Program to help health care providers provide connected care services to patients at their homes or mobile locations in response to the pandemic, and for $16 billion in funding from the CARES Act’s Education Stabilization Fund for remote learning.

Shut out from this help are the 34 million US households who do not have access to the Internet.

There should be a stronger emphasis on treating fiber as an infrastructure, versus purely a broadband service. When broadband, like in the United States, is owned by privately owned cable companies it becomes a commodity and not a public utility, ” said Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) at a Ethnic News Media briefing on July23.

The digital cliff into deeper poverty and greater isolation for the disadvantaged must be avoided through digital equity.

The Senate has, for approval, an infrastructure package to improve broadband access nationwide; $65 billion is earmarked for universal broadband infrastructure.

This is where things will be challenging. Thirty six million U.S. households do not have an Internet connection – a wire line – cable, DSL or fiber in their homes. Of these 26 million are urban. Even in big cities people have been left behind. For example, San Francisco has approximately 100,000 people per the city’s own internal analysis that lack broadband (most of whom are low-income and predominantly people of color), yet are surrounded by Comcast and AT&T fiber deployments in that same city.

“25% Spanish speaking households are not connected at home. And 10 % connect using a smartphone,” said Sunne McPeak, president and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) at the EMS briefing.

“15% of California’s population is low income and digitally disadvantaged,” said McPeak. “Morally it should be a utility but legally it is a commodity.”


On the other hand, “the infrastructure may be there, but it may not meet the needs of the population, or they may not be able to afford it, and or they may not know how to use it,” said Siefer. “Technology is confusing, it is intimidating and then there is the trust factor (privacy, safety concerns),” she said.

Of the $65 billion earmarked for universal broadband infrastructure, $2.75 billion supports a Digital Equity Act. Digital equity is the goal. And it can be met by hand holding them across the divide to the other side.

“Affordable home broadband- lower rates, affordable devices, digital literacy and skills training with someone to turn to when they have a question is essential to achieve this.” One on one support.

She urged practitioners of digital equity to reach out to the local officials and make use of Emergency Broadband Benefit before it runs out.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is an FCC (Federal Communications Commission)  program to help families and households struggling to afford internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This new benefit will connect eligible households to jobs, critical healthcare services, virtual classrooms, and so much more. The Emergency Broadband Benefit will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. California has more Native Americans staying in the state than any other state.

Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.

This benefit, McPeak said, for the moment is under-subscribed.

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

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash



A Modern Day Satyagrahi Finds Justice In California’s Mount Shasta Vista

Zurg Xiong, a 33-year-old Hmong American satyagrahi, ended his 19-day hunger strike on the afternoon of July 23 2021, when California State Attorney General Rob Bonta agreed to look into the death of farmer Soobleej Hawj, who was shot to death as he was trying to escape the Lava fire. 

A weapon of the determined, satyagraha, a policy of passive political resistance advocated by Mahatma Gandhi against British rule in India, is sometimes the only cry for help a community can make. Zurg Xiong threw his life into the ring in a last ditch attempt to be heard by the Siskiyou Sheriff.  “I was prepared to die in front of the American courthouse just to prove the point that this is not justice,” said Xiong. 

35-year-old Hawj was shot to death by Siskiyou County law enforcement officers on June 28, when he allegedly turned the wrong way at a checkpoint on Highway 12 near Weed, during a mandatory fire evacuation order for the region. Officers shot at Hawj at least 21 times. An eyewitness video records the sounds of at least 40-60 bullets being fired. 

Hawj’s wife and three children were in a second car behind him. 

Zurg Xiong says the death of Hawj was inevitable. He had seen the writing on the wall. Someone was going to die.  Tensions, between the Hmong American community and the Sheriff’s office, had been escalating. 

“Xiong life is at risk,” said Manju Kulkarni, co-founder StopAAPI Hate, Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council at a brifeingon July 23, organized by Ethnic Media Services. She called  the killing of farmer Hawj, a father of three, horrific, and added that it fit a pattern of institutional racism that sits atop individual racism and discrimination.

“Not that far from Siskiyou County in 1907, 500 white individuals beat and drove out 200 South Asian American men because they were working in the lumber yard. Law enforcement alongside with white supremacists target communities of color. In just the last year 8-10 million Asians have faced hate in the US,” said Kulkarni.

The shooting happened in an area that is home primarily to Hmong American farmers in the Mount Shasta/Vista area. The farmers are policed for farming marijuana. While cannabis is legal in California, outdoor cultivation is forbidden in Siskiyou County. Farmers can grow up to 12 plants indoors.

The Hmong Americans are accused of running a secret drug cartel. They feel they are specially targeted by the Siskiyou County authorities.

“This all started from LaRue being appointed as Sheriff and saying, look, go after the water. So the tension started when that happened,“ said Zurg Xiong to Georgie Szendrey

Restrictive water ordinances to starve the Hmong farmers out of the county were zealously enforced in the area where the community lives. 

“Tensions have been actively stoked, encouraged and maybe even unofficially directed by the local government,” said Zurg Xiong.

Six Asian Americans filed a lawsuit June 4, 24 days before Hawj was killed, seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Sheriff’s Office from surveilling trucks for water delivery in the Mount Shasta Vista area, where Hmongs make up the majority of residents.

“So the tension started when that happened. And then we had a protest a few months ago. When we went marching, I actually said in my speech. I said they’re going to go after the water. They’re going to burn us out because they’ve been threatening to burn us out. And then one of the police officers is going to shoot us dead because the tensions are so high. And that’s exactly what happened. And that happened at the same time,” said Zurg Xiong.

The Hmong, who bravely fought side by side with U.S. forces during the Vietnam conflict, rescued American pilots, and lost over 35,000 lives supporting the U.S., feel betrayed. From 1959 to 1975, the CIA conducted a secret war in Laos that relied on Hmong soldiers to prevent the threat of communism from spreading deeper into Southeast Asia. Today, according to the 2010 US Census, 260,073 people of Hmong descent reside in the United States.

At the EMS briefing, a starving but defiant Xiong appeared along with Hmong activists Tong Xiong and Tou Ger Xiong. Officials walked past him as he lay on the concrete steps of the Siskiyou County Courthouse in Yreka, California.

Social Justice through Satyagraha has been the goal of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s and James Bevel‘s campaigns during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, as well as Nelson Mandela‘s struggle against apartheid in South Africa.  Developed in 1906 by Gandhi over a hundred years ago, it has maintained its relevance and reaffirms faith in the humanity of the oppressor.

Xiong demanded an independent investigation into the killing of Hawj on  June 28, and the release of all video footage of the incident derived from body and vehicle cameras. For this he was willing to give up his life. 

But, before life would have ebbed from Xiong’s body, the California state Attorney General Rob Bonta, on a zoom call, agreed to look into the death of farmer Soobleej Hawj, thereby opening a door of reconciliation to the proud Hmong American community.

The satyagrahi, aided by his sister, finally broke his fast.

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


Heat, Dust & Death: What The Drought Could Bring This Summer

California could be in for a devastating summer.

Heatwaves are increasing in frequency, intensity, and duration, and, as temperatures rise, climate change activists are concerned that inaction could lead to more deaths in the summer. 

Its severe intensity puts the drought in the top tier historically, surpassing the 2016 drought considered the worst in California’s history. 

“Ultimately, there’s just less water available on the landscape, which means that the soils become drier and the vegetation becomes drier. It means that plants require more water, but there is less water in rivers, lakes, and streams available to humans, the environment, and agriculture. This means that there is less capacity of the atmosphere to buffer against extreme heatwaves,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

“This will be an *exceptionally dangerous* heatwave from a public health perspective, especially since this is a part of the country where structures are not designed to shed heat and where air conditioning is rare. Infrastructure/power disruption is also possible,” tweeted Swain, as an extreme heatwave unfolded along the West Coast of North America, centered on the Pacific Northwest and southwestern Canada.

(From left to right: Dr. Daniel Swain, Climate Scientist, UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability; Dr. Kristie L. Ebi, Professor, Center for Health and the Global Environment; Aradhna Tripati, Associate Professor, UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.)

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) climate change is speeding up. Wildfires are bigger, heat waves more frequent, and seas are warmer.

At a briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services on June 18th, experts pointed at data tracking the impact of climate change on the U.S. and worldwide, and warned that the best way to address the climate crisis is with scientific models as well as with policies focused on equity. 

In the current decade, almost 12,000 premature deaths are recorded annually in the contiguous United States, though experts suggest this is an undercount. Almost all of the deaths are preventable.

Heat and higher temperatures kill, and the poor and disadvantaged are at a higher risk. Low-income families cannot afford to move after a natural disaster; they generally live in asphalt or concrete jungles and lack green space, making them vulnerable to the dangers of heat.

“Redlining has made a big impact on the climate and temperature of certain areas. These are the areas where people who are poor and marginalized live. There are fewer trees, less airflow and the structure of those urban environments is such that they tend to be hotter, “ said  Dr. Kristie L. Ebi, Professor, Center for Health and the Global Environment, University of Washington, and co-author of a new report on the impact of rising heat on mortality

Climate models show that climate change deals a tougher hand to low-income and minority ethnic groups, added Aradhna E. Tripati, Associate Professor, UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. As fires rage in the town of Paradise for example, “some people may move as they have multiple homes but that is not everybody,” said Tripati. Groups with insufficient resources have more difficulty dealing with the effects of climate change. 

“Any injustices that exist will interact with other inequities in ways that will be particularly devastating for low-income communities and communities of color,” said Tripati, citing the disproportionate impact on marginalized groups by hurricanes like Maria and Katrina or the Paradise wildfires in California.

She believes that ethnic minorities who historically are more adept at dealing with scant resources and have developed workarounds should be invited to participate in making climate change decisions and environmental protection policies.  

Effective solutions come naturally to people who come from hot areas, said Tripathi. 

“Actions we can take to reduce our core body temperatures must be taken. Self-dowsing i.e. wetting your skin and turning on the fan are highly effective”, said Dr. Kristie L. Ebi. When heatwave early warning systems alert people to prepare for such events, “Make sure to look in on your neighbors to ensure they are hydrated and their environment has good air circulation.” 

Additionally, said Ebi, mortality is impacted not just by the temperature but our development choices – for example, green roofs and environments with good air circulation work when temperatures are high. Air conditioning causes urban heat islands. Anything we can do to reduce these islands will help people keep their core body temperatures down during heatwaves.

Judicious and equitable choices in planning cities and our living environment are critical to managing the heat that is coming, concluded Dr. Ebi.

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

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.


Racial Inequity Impacts Older Asian Americans

The impact of racial inequity on the lives of elderly Asian Americans has been rudely brought to our attention by the attacks on Asian elders. AARP is hosting several initiatives in an effort to stop Asian hate and advocate for the elders that reflect its promise to protect and serve older Americans of all colors.

 In a webinar on May 6, an AARP panel, #StopAsianHate: Advocating for Our Elders, called attention to the ways individuals, organizations and communities of color can advocate for AAPI elders as they face fallout from the pandemic, racism and ageism. The discussion tackled stereotypes and how to provide support.

Key AAPI organizations discussed policy and planning of racial equity and communications, to bring visibility to their work  supporting elders and to provide information on resources.

 “You can’t legislate racism away,”  said John Yang, President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), pointing out that federal advocacy, though critical, cannot replace educating the public. He urged that a war of words, language and beliefs, hate has to be fought in the classrooms of life. 

Videos of black violence on Asians have been given currency in an attempt to deflect the issue, he added. Viral stories of other communities of color attacking Asian Americans are circulating on social media, when in reality less than 5 percent of the attackers are African American, said Yang.

With better understanding comes better appreciation of the community, and that helps build bridges between different groups, Yang explained. “We must stand together in our fight against hate of all kinds.”

One approach would be to pay tribute to and commemorate the many contributions that generations of Asian American and Pacific Islanders have made to American history, society and culture. Yang suggested that schools could highlight the contribution of Asian Americans in the history of  country.  Images from World War II and railroad workers should not feature only white Americans. Pictures of Asian Americans who helped build this nation alongside other Americans should be shared in classrooms. 

The common thread that runs through history is that the American Asians are perpetual foreigners in their own country.

“No matter how long you have been in the US you are seen as a foreigner. Any time you have a threat in the US, and here there is Covid19 threat or real geopolitical tension against the Chinese government, the backlash happens against Asian Americans. What is different this time however is, the elderly and women are disproportionately being attacked as they are being perceived as vulnerable,” said Yang.

Asian American hate, though systemic throughout American history, has taken new meaning in the wake of the Covid 19 virus and the license to hate given by the previous administration.

“AARP strongly condemns all racially motivated violence and harassment,” stated Nancy McPherson, AARP California State Director. “We must come together as a community to empower and uplift one another, especially during these trying times. This May, let us recognize and celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander Americans’ integral contributions to the United States’ past, presence and future.”

Edna Kane-Williams, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, AARP, stated that AARP unequivocally stands in support of AAPI.

AARP is making sure that it is a megaphone for this message.”This is not a time for organizations to stand silently along the sidelines hoping that people get the message. We really have to be active allies and not passive allies. This is not a benign event that is happening. It is malicious. It is  malignant and it really must stop. We must signal our support of the AAPI community and our absolute rejection of what is happening in no uncertain terms,” she said.

“We have to signal our support for the AAPI community and absolute rejection of what is happening. Most importantly we hope everyone leaves this webinar with an idea of what each one of us can do individually. Each one of us must step up.”

Panelists urged the public to step up to support the AAPI community with suitable words and deeds. Words are important and carefully crafted words can damage the cause and exacerbate tensions against the community. Small gestures of kindness to an elderly AAPI neighbor for instance a bunch of flowers on Fathers Day will go a long way, said Yang. 

“Let us all commit to stopping AAPI hate by taking three actions: Learn about how detrimental the ‘model minority myth’ is to AAPIs; shatter the ‘perpetual foreigner’ image of AAPIs; and reach out and support your AAPI friends, neighbors, and colleagues,” said Daphne Kwok, Vice President Diversity Equity & Inclusion, Asian American & Pacific Islander Audience Strategy.

Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author whose story Jinnah’s Daughter, featured in the New York Times’s Express Tribune blog, exemplifies her deep interest and understanding of history and the place of people in it.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash


The Ali Family, Ben's Chilli Bowl, Washington DC

Small Businesses Must Apply For PPP Grants Say EMS Panel

Ben Chilli Bowl, an  iconic Washington D.C. diner, was going to close its doors. It did not receive a loan under Payment Protection Plan (PPP), the government scheme to help small businesses.

In a tweet, then Sen. Kamala Harris, (D-CA) noted, “@benschilibowl is a DC icon I used to eat at during my @HowardU days. It’s outrageous small businesses like Ben’s Chili Bowl aren’t getting the kind of relief the president’s friends are getting. Congress must prioritize helping minority-owned businesses.”

Virginia Ali, the 86-year old matriarch and co-founder of Chilli Bowl shared her difficult experience at a panel discussion on how small businesses could emerge from this crisis, during an Ethnic Media Services briefing on May 28.

After being shut out of the initial round of forgivable federal loans, the Ali family, owners of Ben’s Chili Bowl, applied again. They finally did get Paycheck Protection Program assistance. 

Speakers at an Ethnic Media panel on May 28, 2021


“Most small businesses do look at federal programs, similar to SBA, but what they should be aware of is that each state has programs as well, such as the State Small Businesses Credit Initiative which has 600 percent more funds in it than it had the last time. The program has been tweaked to ensure small businesses even those with weaker credit profiles will now get help, he said.

The American Rescue Bill had roughly 350 billion dollars that went out to individuals in states and counties and cities with 200,000+ in population sizes. That money, in this moment, while we are reopening, represents capital that can be catalytic. 

“It is extremely important that the small business owner, one, looks at advocacy work to see where the money is going and who it is going out to; two, talks to their economic development in the cities to find their programs; and three, most importantly APPLY!,”  said Sands.

“What we have learnt from the pandemic is that most opportunities come a second time. If you look at PPP it has come up a third time. We are into the third iteration of the program to ensure that some of the smaller small businesses now have access to capital,” said Sands. It is therefore important that businesses apply.

Congressman Ro Khanna, D-California. Rep. Khanna, a member of the Congressional Small Business Caucus, reiterated the importance of making sure that the money is distributed to small businesses and not default to big bank customers. 

“Establishments with under 25 employees like local restaurants, dry cleaners and nail salons are small businesses,” said Khanna. “Secondly, the distribution of monies should keep racial and gender diversity in mind,”  he said.

PPP  helped small businesses stay afloat with low-interest loans. A $2.2-trillion economic relief measure, it was signed into law in March 2020, during the first pandemic surge. It was conceived as a loan program that could be forgiven entirely if borrowers met certain conditions involving retaining employees.

In 2020 and 2021, Lendistry provided Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to small businesses in all 50 states and was selected by the State of California to administer the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program, which distributed grants to small businesses that lost significant revenues during the pandemic. 

Mom-and-pop Main Street America can emerge from this crisis and admired the resilience of the small business owner, agreed panellists. The key characteristic of a small business owner is that they never give up. They urged small business owners to apply for government help.

“For amounts less than $150,000, most of the red tape or the bureaucratic process of a loan has been cleared away,” Sands explained. “They must apply for help even if they don’t know the information, even if they get it wrong.”

Ritu Marwah is an award winning author whose story Jinnah’s Daughter, featured in the New York Times’s Express Tribune blog, exemplifies her deep interest and understanding of history and the place of people in it.


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.