In the latest Around Town column, news about the uncertain future of in-person City Council meetings, vibrant murals recently added to the California Avenue business district and a grant to support a wildfire smoke study at Stanford.
DIALED IN ... When the City Council retired in June for a summer break, it fully expected that by the time September rolled around, its meetings would revert in some part to their prepandemic form.
In late May, with the end of the health crisis seemingly in sight, members endorsed a "hybrid" approach in which most council members would go to City Hall for the meetings but would still give the public a chance to participate remotely.
Now, with the prevalence of the delta variant, the council is still holding meetings via Zoom and the future of its meetings remains hazy. A new staff report notes that despite the city's plans for hybrid meetings, "safety concerns prompted the decision to continue the virtual-only meeting format for City Council and City board and commissions, at least through the month of September."
The city, like many others, is legally allowed to conduct remote meetings through Sept. 30 under a June executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Several state bills are trying to extend that authority beyond September, chief among them AB 361, which was authored by Assembly member Robert Rivas, D-Salinas, and which would allow local governments to hold remote meetings when they declare a state of emergency. The bill has passed the Assembly and is winding through the Senate's committee process (the Judiciary Committee was scheduled to discuss it on Sept. 9).
A SPLASH OF COLOR ... The California Avenue business district has become more vibrant with four new temporary murals at 250 Sherman Ave. that were installed last month, according to the Palo Alto Public Art Program. They surround the city's future public safety building, which broke ground in June and is set for completion in July 2023.
Jessica Eastburn drew on the district's past and present for her mural, "Busy Business," which depicts whimsical animals, inhabitants of so-called Cauliflower Ave, rushing to and from small businesses and restaurants, according to a description by Eastburn on the city's website. "A rabbit entering a saloon is a nod to the former raucous, booze-loving town of Mayfield," she wrote.
Debra Koppman also was influenced by the district's history for her mural, "Stepping Out to the Beat of California Avenue." Her mosaic-like work captures abstract characters who "walk, run, dance, prance, float and somersault through colorful and animated spaces," she wrote in a description.
Liv Losee-Unger brought nature to the site with "Night and Day," a mural filled with animals, plants and a radiant sun in the middle.
Abi Mustapha turned the emotions from over the past year of pandemic life to create "New Garden," which features people alongside bountiful flowers and a night sky. "As things change and open up again, we're seeing that we've changed, shifted, pivoted and in many ways grown," states Mustapha's description of the piece. "We are adaptable and like our gardens we are ready to bloom again."
The murals are expected to stay at the site for the next year. For a map of the city's temporary murals, visit viewer.mapme.com.
SIFTING THROUGH THE SMOKE ... The impact of recent northern California wildfires on the local air quality have been hard to ignore in the Bay Area, where a haze has permeated the skies in recent weeks. There have been numerous air-quality advisories and Spare the Air alerts, which have called on the public to stay indoors if they smell smoke and cut back on driving to reduce smog.
Stanford researchers plan to examine the effects of wildfire smoke through a study that recently received nearly $1 million in federal funds. The Environmental Protection Agency awarded the university $999,846 in an effort to help researchers "address behavioral, technical, and practical aspects of interventions and communication strategies to reduce exposures and health risks of wildland fire smoke," according to an Aug. 23 press release.
Focused on San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, the university's research will explore "affordable technology and native language messaging-based interventions" in low-income communities. Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth System Science and center fellow at the Wood Institute for the Environment, is the principal investigator for the study.
Stanford was among 10 universities and institutes that were awarded a grant from the EPA's Science to Achieve Results program, which disbursed $7 million in funds for the recipients.