Do you want to know how I got these scars – Part one

I have a hidden disability. It is not readily apparent or visible to most people. I do my best not to call attention to it unless I have to. I’ve adapted to it, mostly. Some days I can almost forget it’s there. But it’s always there.

In 2008, I began to lose the hearing in my right ear. At first I thought my ear was “plugged up,” as sometimes happens when one has a cold. But after it persisted for several weeks, I figured I should go see a doctor and have it checked out.

(At this point in the story, I want to say that I’m thankful that seeing a doctor was even an option for me. I fortunately had medical insurance through my employer. There was a time in my young adulthood when I had no medical insurance for several years. If this had happened then, I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor, because I couldn’t afford even a simple doctor’s office visit, much less any treatment.)

The C-shaped scar around my right ear. Sometimes people mistake it for a bad haircut, or a bad-ass scar from a bar fight (I wish). But it’s actually from a translabyrinthine craniotomy to resect an acoustic neuroma, i.e. brain surgery to remove a benign tumor from my acoustic nerve.

That first doctor’s examination was relatively uneventful, as far as I knew at the time, being relatively young and having never had any significant health issues before. After asking me a series of typical diagnostic questions, the doctor looked in my ear and reported seeing nothing out of the ordinary. She told me that sometimes temporary hearing loss is caused by a virus, and then prescribed a steroid treatment. (Taking steroids was an interesting experience, to say the least — but that’s a story for another day.) But before ending the examination, she told me that she would schedule an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) test, just to be certain.

I, in my carefree way at the time, didn’t find this alarming. Doctors run tests all the time, just to rule things out. I figured that the MRI was just that: ruling out anything more serious than a virus. I had medical insurance. It wouldn’t cost me anything out of pocket, I reasoned. Tests like this are what we pay premiums for. Plus, I was taught to always follow the doctor’s advice.

When I arrived at the MRI department the following week for my test, I was juiced up on steroids, which again was an interesting state to be in, but that is beside the point of the present story. It was at the MRI exam that I first realized that my condition was potentially very serious.

The MRI technician was a no-nonsense man, middle aged, serious in mien, wearing a lab coat, apparently of eastern European descent, rather gruff, and my first impression of him was that he probably cranks out fifty MRI exams per day, every day, and he has no time for pleasantries nor any bedside manner because those things are time consuming and are not necessary for the accurate scanning of people’s body parts.

The thing I remember most about that experience wasn’t the oddly comforting feeling of being nestled inside the futuristic-looking MRI chamber, nor was it the technician’s clipped, rather stern verbal instructions over the intercom reminding me to hold still, nor was it the incredibly loud and knocking racket the machine made. What I remember most came after the test was done and I was getting dressed to leave.

Next to the big room where the MRI machine stood, there was a little booth filled with controls and video screens where the technician sat and did his work. As I moved from the MRI room to the little dressing room, I caught a glimpse of the main screen showing a scan of what appeared to be a human head, apparently my head. I marveled at the technology as the technician tersely ushered me through the curtain.

When I emerged from the dressing room, I saw him seated in his booth looking intently at the screen. When he noticed me coming out, he stood up and came over to me, standing in such as way as to subtly block my view of the screen. I was holding my coat in my hand, and as we exchanged words to wrap up the session, I began to put it on. To my surprise, he began to help me put on my coat. The way he held up the coat and helped me put it on was striking. He was suddenly very kind, even adjusting my collar. He told me that the doctor would review the test results and get in touch with me. But in his eyes I sensed he was telling me more than his words. I knew that he could not tell me what the scan showed, and I didn’t ask. But it was in that moment that I knew this was no virus.

Part two:

Front row seat

Hayward’s new library is taking shape. Crews have begun installing massive glass panels for the three story front window. Primarily built of steel, concrete, glass, and terracotta and powered by solar energy produced onsite, the 21st Century Library is the most environmentally sustainable public building ever to begin construction in Hayward. I feel incredibly fortunate to have a front row seat to its construction – from the window of my office in the old library across the street.

The construction of the new library is progressing nicely. Crews have begun to install the massive glass panels that will make up the building’s three story front window. The building was designed using sophisticated computer lighting models to maximize the amount of natural light that flows into the building.
The windows are important features that will help the building achieve its Net Zero Energy goal by reducing the need for artificial light. (They should provide some pretty cool views, too.)
Some have asked me, what is that blue-green paint we see being applied to the new library under construction? Great question! That is a weatherproofing treatment to seal the concrete supporting walls and keep moisture out of the concrete. After the weatherproofing is complete, the next step will be to attach terracotta panels, which will further protect the structure and give the building a beautiful brick-like appearance.

My heritage


These photos are of my grandmother when she arrived in America in 1950. My maternal grandmother was born in Japan; my maternal grandfather was American, of Louisiana Cajun French. My grandparents met during the Korean War. My grandfather served in the Army during that time. He met my grandmother, all of 18 years old at the time. They fell in love and he brought her back to America with him as his wife. These photos were taken shortly after they returned to America for the first time. After the war, my grandfather was stationed at Ft. Sill Army Base in Oklahoma. They later were stationed in Germany, then Oakland Army Base. My grandfather was honorably discharged from the military from Oakland. My grandparents, like so many other young veteran families of the era, sought to buy a home in the East Bay Area and raise their family there. Unfortunately at that time (early 1960s), discriminatory legal “covenants” prevented any and all non-whites from buying homes in many neighborhoods. My grandparents tried to buy homes in San Lorenzo and San Leandro, but were turned away when the sellers or realtors saw my grandmother and realized her race. My grandmother still vividly recalls and occasionally tells me the story of how my grandfather once had made all the arrangements to buy a brand-new home in San Lorenzo. The deal was basically done, but when my grandfather and grandmother arrived to sign the final paperwork, the realtor took one look at my grandmother and literally waved them away. Eventually my grandparents were able to buy a home in unincorporated Hayward just outside of San Lorenzo village, where the covenants were not in effect. Even then, my grandparents and their family daily faced shocking racism and prejudice. This is how my mother’s side of the family came to settle in Hayward. Many years later, I rented that same house from my grandmother and started my own family there.

My maternal grandmother arrived in America by sea in 1950. She and her father, a Japanese restaurateur and political dissident during the fascist era of the 1940s, were forced to flee their home in Japan to Manchuria in the 1940s. They later settled in Korea, where my grandmother met my grandfather, an American serviceman serving a tour of duty during the Korean Conflict.
This is my grandmother in front of an Oklahoma barracks shortly after arriving in America in 1950. My grandfather was stationed at Ft. Sill Army Base in Oklahoma when this photo was taken. They later were stationed in Germany, then Oakland Army Base. After he was discharged, the family tried to buy a home in the East Bay Area. At that time (late 1960s), there were discriminatory covenants in many neighborhoods that prevented non-whites from buying homes. They looked in San Lorenzo and San Leandro, but were turned away when the sellers or realtors learned my grandmother’s race. Eventually my grandparents were able to buy a home in Hayward. This is how my mother’s side of the family came to settle in Hayward.


My grandfather and grandmother in 1950. He was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana; she was from Saga Prefecture, Japan. He was overseas serving in the Army when they met. They were married and he brought her home to Louisiana. Later they relocated to Oakland, then bought their first and only home in unincorporated Hayward.
My grandmother with her children in Oklahoma in 1958. My mother is the little girl in front, along with my aunt and uncle. This photo perfectly captures their personalities! Unfortunately prejudice against Japanese-Americans was intense and pervasive when this photo was taken. My mother, aunt, uncle, and grandmother have shared with me many stories of discrimination, fear, and hate that was daily aimed at them back in this time.

Creating a community plaza in Hayward

This capacity diagram shows the size of Heritage Plaza. It is equal to the size of San Francisco’s Union Square. Heritage Plaza’s two main plaza areas – one in the center oval, and one along the C Street hardscape – have a total capacity for up to 4,000 event attendees.


To get a sense of the scale, check out the the little red rectangles inside the center oval. Those represent 20′ long food trucks. The little red squares at the top of the oval represent 10′ by 10′ farmer’s market tents.

Heritage Plaza dates back to Hayward’s founding days in the mid-1800’s. The site was part of the homestead of Hayward’s first landowner and rancher, Don Guillermo Castro. When Castro subdivided and sold his land holdings in 1864, he dedicated one full city block to the people of Hayward for use as a public plaza in perpetuity.

Today, this plaza is filled with century-old heritage trees, and will be restored to its historic roots as an open space and community gathering place. After the new 21st Century Library is built and the deteriorating old main library is torn down, Heritage Plaza will be fully restored to its former glory as Hayward’s premier central plaza for community festivals, farmer’s markets, music and cultural performances, civic observances and other community events for generations to come.

“Now we can dance: The story of Hayward’s Gay Prom”

Now We Can Dance: The Story of the Hayward Gay Prom is a short documentary film produced by Hayward Public Library in 2013. The film celebrates Hayward’s long-standing Gay Prom event. It chronicles the controversy surrounding the 1995 creation of the gay prom and the significance of having a traditional high school dance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teenagers. The film was a featured documentary at the international Frameline Film Festival in 2014.

Hayward’s Gay Prom was the brainchild of the Lambda Youth Project, an LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) support group. Each year, hundreds of youth from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond come to Hayward’s Gay Prom event because it is a safe place to be themselves and celebrate with other like-minded youth. It is believed to be the longest-running youth LGBT prom event in the nation.


Now We Can Dance is a culmination of a two-year documentary project spearheaded by Hayward Library with funding from Cal Humanities. Local teens were trained in filmmaking by a team of Hayward Public Library staff and professional advisors, including Academy Award-winning documentary film director Debra Chasnoff. The film features interviews with early prom organizers, attendees, and supportive community members interspersed with footage from the 2011 gay prom and interviews with recent prom goers, volunteers, and even a protester.

The 17-minute documentary video is available on the Hayward Library website, Youtube, Vimeo, and on Facebook. Hayward Library also developed an accompanying school curriculum that addresses Common Core standards and provides discussion questions that can be used by any group. The curriculum can be downloaded here.

Kudos to my colleague and fellow Hayward librarian Laurie Willis for her extraordinary work producing this film.

They see me rollin’ …

They see me rollin’… at the Hayward Employee Pancake Breakfast. The executive team pooled our funds for months to host a great big breakfast for city employees last week. It was a nice event, and I think people had a good time. I enjoyed throwing back to my harleyroots in food service – it reminded me of my many years working as a waiter to pay my way through college. Now all these years later, I’m approaching ten years of service as a city department head. If you had told me, back when I was an obnoxious teen at Mt. Eden High School, that someday I’d be a city department head, I would have been surprised but also thrilled. Working for my hometown is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding aspects of my life. While there has been no shortage of sacrifice and hardship in recent years, especially during the great recession, I’ve also been part of awesome achievements and forged incredible lifelong relationships here. I’m so excited and optimistic about where Hayward is headed, after growing up and living here for most of my life, and I feel so fortunate to be a part of that bright future. Now, if only the police officers would let me take one of these Harleys for a spin…

Housing Affordability: A Crisis Decades in the Making

This is a set of data and infographics I compiled for a report to City Council about housing affordability. A link to the full report and presentation is below the graphic.

Housing is a basic human need. It is fundamental to the human condition. Housing is so important that much of modern civilization is focused on the homes we live in – developing and building them, buying and selling them, hunting for them, investing in them, renting and sharing them, repairing and improving them, bringing services to them, and protecting them.

In America, housing is absolutely central to the American Dream. Whether we own, or rent, or share a home, all Americans have in common a basic human need for housing we can afford and call our own.  Being secure in our homes gives us the freedom to pursue our life interests and work toward our dreams, whether our dream is to start a family, or build an investment for the future, or simply to have a place to go where we are safe and warm and can live our lives free from fear and want.

It is no secret that our society, especially the Bay Area, is in a major housing crisis right now. There are many reasons why this crisis is happening. The rising cost of housing is a very complicated problem with many moving parts that all affect each other. The crisis we are in now was caused by many complex things, including some which began many years ago. No one single thing by itself caused the current housing crisis. Because there is no one cause of the crisis, there is no one cure-all that can quickly solve it. We should be careful not to oversimplify the problem.  A crisis this complicated will have many different solutions and some solutions may take years to show progress.

It is tempting to try quick solutions that seem to give immediate progress, such as by immediately raising taxes very high to build more housing, or by passing very strict rent control laws. Every community is different, often with many diverse points of view, and every local housing market has different and unique factors affecting it. Even if solutions have good intentions, if they are not very carefully tested and studied before they are fully implemented, they can fail to work, or have unexpected consequences, or be struck down in lawsuits later. This can make the crisis worse, sometimes right away or years later.

For example, San Francisco has many housing laws including some of the strictest rent control laws in the country. However, rents in San Francisco still continue to escalate and are now among the most expensive in the world. This makes it so landlords fight even harder to protect their investments and their ability to raise rents because their properties are even more valuable. Because it is a very wealthy city, San Francisco can and does spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build affordable housing.  However, it is still not enough. Ordinary working families with good jobs and decent pay who have lived there for many years in the past can no longer live there and still make ends meet.

Many of these working families have moved to more affordable cities like Oakland, Richmond, and Hayward. This has made the demand for housing in other Bay Area cities go up very fast. However, many of these cities are already built out, and new housing is not being built fast enough to make room for all the people who want to move in. There is not enough supply of housing to match all the demand. This makes housing prices go up. Rents in Hayward have gone up in the past three years, though not as high as in other parts of Alameda County like Castro Valley, Fremont, and Livermore.

In 1950, when the storied  “Baby Boom” population explosion had just begun, Hayward was a small city of 14,000 people who lived in 4,700 houses and apartments combined (housing units). At that time, Hayward was mainly a farm town, and most of the land was farms, orchards, ranches, and other open lands.  Ten years later in 1960, the population had grown very rapidly to 72,000 people. Many new homes had been built very fast, and Hayward had grown to 20,200 housing units in 1960.  By 1970, the population had grown very fast again, to 93,000 people. Thousands more housing units were built, but not as many as in the previous ten years. In 1970 Hayward had 28,600 housing units.

From 1950 to 1970 – in a single family generation of twenty years – Hayward’s population exploded by 660%. The number of housing units had multiplied by 608%. During this time of very fast growth, nearly all of Hayward’s large orchards and farms and other open spaces were turned into massive neighborhoods of single family homes and “garden apartment” complexes, with shopping centers, schools, parks and many other services in between. This filled up nearly all of the open land in Hayward.

By the year 2000, Hayward’s population had continued to grow and had reached over 140,000 people. The number of housing units had barely kept up with the demand, to just over 45,000 housing units.

After the year 2000, housing development in Hayward slowed down. Nearly all of the available and easily developable open land for building housing had been filled. People’s attitudes about building had changed, and most wanted to leave the land that was still open alone, or keep it as parks and open space areas. People became more concerned about the impacts to the environment and quality of life in their neighborhoods that more housing could cause. Housing developers had to shift their focus to infill projects, which use smaller pieces of land or land that already has buildings on it. Infill projects are typically much more difficult and expensive to build than projects on open land. New restrictions and community opposition to infill projects based on density, parking, traffic, environmental impacts, and other complicated factors added to the difficulty and expense of developing and building new housing.

The gap between population growth and housing development began to widen. Between 2005 and 2015, Hayward’s population grew by nearly 15,000 people, but over the same period the total number of housing units increased by less than 500 units overall.

To look at this trend another way: In 2005, Hayward had one housing unit for every 2.84 people. In the year 2015, Hayward had one housing unit for every 3.24 people.

This problem is not limited to just Hayward. The entire State of California, and particularly the Bay Area, is confronting a growing housing affordability crisis.  A recent draft statewide housing study from the State’s Housing and Community Development Department (HCD) entitled “California’s Housing Future: Challenges and Opportunities,” found that:

  • Production in California averaged less than 80,000 new homes per year over the last 10 years, and ongoing production continues to fall far below the projected need of 180,000 additional homes annually.
  • The majority of Californian renters — more than 3 million households — pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent, and nearly one-third — more than 1.5 million households — pay more than 50% of their income toward rent.

In Hayward, home sales prices rose 84% between 2010 when the housing market bottomed out and 2015, the most recent year for which data is available.

In Hayward, rents increased 33% between 2011 and 2015.

In Hayward in 2015, approximately 91% of Very Low Income renters paid over 30% of their incomes for rent, and 36% paid more than half of their incomes for rent.[3]

While these trends are cause for concern, Hayward’s rents are actually lower than median (middle-of-the-road) rents in Alameda County by a significant margin (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Median Rents in Hayward, Castro Valley and Alameda County, 2011-2015


With limited resources available, how can local governments help solve the problem of housing affordability? Local governments typically have far fewer resources available to them than the state or federal government. What role do business people and investors, particularly housing developers, have to play in helping to resolve the housing crisis? The answers to these questions are explored in more detail in the full report.

Source: Review and Discussion of Housing Affordability Strategies and Resources in Hayward and Alameda County, Hayward City Council presentation, January 31, 2017