Friday, November 3, 2017

Bricks and Mortar Silicon Valley-Style: Housing, Heritage and Controversy

Several Bay Area news entities have aired segments recently about housing shortages in Cupertino, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Santa Clara and San Jose, as Facebook, Google, NVIDIA, Samsung and Apple (among other notable high-tech firms), design and execute extraordinary new structures to expand into large sties within those Silicon Valley cities.

An image from Google's 2015 West Bayshore Proposal

The Association of Bay Area Goverments or ABAG, assists local cities here in meeting state requirements to develop a Housing Element (HE) within their General Plans (GP) and General Plan Amendments (GPA). The Housing Element must demonstrate how each Bay Area city will plan and permit construction to provide new housing at all price points, particularly in proportion to the expanding business properties within their borders.

The Housing Element portion of each GP or GPA is driven by the most recent RHNA, or Regional Housing Need Allocation, which sets goals for future housing needs in our Bay Area region. Each city in our region is required to meet their assigned target for a portion of the RHNA by permitting affordable housing within their city. This is accomplished by revising the Housing Element within their General Plan or by creating a General Plan Amendment. Typically RHNA goals are set for a period of eight years. All city Housing Elements are due to the state by January 15th, before the next RHNA cycle begins.

Here is what ABAG states about RHNA on their Web site:
State law recognizes the vital role local governments play in the supply and affordability of housing. Each local government in California is required to adopt a Housing Element as part of its General Plan that shows how the community plans to meet the existing and projected housing needs of people at all income levels. 
The Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) is the state-mandated process to identify the total number of housing units (by affordability level) that each jurisdiction must accommodate in its Housing Element. As part of this process, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) identifies the total housing need for the San Francisco Bay Area for an eight-year period (in this cycle, from 2014 to 2022). ABAG and MTC must then develop a methodology to distribute this need to local governments in a manner that is consistent with the development pattern included in the Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS). Once a local government has received its final RHNA, it must revise its Housing Element to show how it plans to accommodate its portion of the region's housing need. ABAG, accessed November 2, 2017)
The Santa Clara INVIDIA site (design and images by

The projected expansion of existing businesses or the addition of new businesses, requires each city to amend their existing General Plan Housing Element to redefine parameters and requirements for new growth, plus modify their Housing Element in proportion to business growth.

A General Plan Amendment (GPA) usually includes newly-restated planning goals for a specified time frame. Goals include limits on building heights, amended requirements for defined setbacks (the space between the roadway and the structure, including any landscaping requirements), the allowed density (units per acre), the percentage of low-income housing and senior housing in new developments, plans for expanded transportation, pedestrian areas and bike lanes, the modification of freeway access points, plus other details requested by City planners, City Council members and residents, who typically are involved for a year or more in a General Plan Amendment and Housing Element conceptual process.

The State of California Governor's Office of Planning and Research provides General Plan Amendment Guidelines with suggestions for resident engagement and other topics, at:

In past years the GPA and RHNA process seemed perplexing to residents, since ABAG set a RHNA for each city to achieve state-projected housing requirements at all price levels, yet affordable housing did not seem to materialize according to the local RHNA plan, in some cases. Planned senior housing became market-rate condos, planned affordable-rate condos became luxury apartments, etc. That conundrum was eliminated on September 29, 2017, when Governor Brown signed SB-35 Planning and zoning: affordable housing: streamlined approval process.

SB-35 requires that cities (and counties) make written reports to the State Office of Planning and Research, and the Department of Housing and Community Development, by April first of each year. In the reports, cities must demonstrate their progress in meeting their RHNA and GP/GPA Housing Element goals, or they will be cited:

(b) If a court finds, upon a motion to that effect, that a city, county, or city and county failed to submit, within 60 days of the deadline established in this section, the housing element portion of the report required pursuant to subparagraph (B) of paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) that substantially complies with the requirements of this section, the court shall issue an order or judgment compelling compliance with this section within 60 days. If the city, county, or city and county fails to comply with the court’s order within 60 days, the plaintiff or petitioner may move for sanctions, and the court may, upon that motion, grant appropriate sanctions. The court shall retain jurisdiction to ensure that its order or judgment is carried out. If the court determines that its order or judgment is not carried out within 60 days, the court may issue further orders as provided by law to ensure that the purposes and policies of this section are fulfilled. This subdivision applies to proceedings initiated on or after the first day of October following the adoption of forms and definitions by the Department of Housing and Community Development pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (a), but no sooner than six months following that adoption.

SEC. 1.5.

 Section 65400 of the Government Code is amended to read:
(1) Investigate and make recommendations to the legislative body regarding reasonable and practical means for implementing the general plan or element of the general plan, so that it will serve as an effective guide for orderly growth and development, preservation and conservation of open-space land and natural resources, and the efficient expenditure of public funds relating to the subjects addressed in the general plan.
(2) Provide by April 1 of each year an annual report to the legislative body, the Office of Planning and Research, and the Department of Housing and Community Development that includes all of the following:
(A) The status of the plan and progress in its implementation.
(B) The progress in meeting its share of regional housing needs determined pursuant to Section 65584 and local efforts to remove governmental constraints to the maintenance, improvement, and development of housing pursuant to paragraph (3) of subdivision (c) of Section 65583.
The housing element portion of the annual report, as required by this paragraph, shall be prepared through the use of standards, forms, and definitions adopted by the Department of Housing and Community Development. The department may review, adopt, amend, and repeal the standards, forms, or definitions, to implement this article. Any standards, forms, or definitions adopted to implement this article shall not be subject to Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 11340) of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2. Before and after adoption of the forms, the housing element portion of the annual report shall include a section that describes the actions taken by the local government towards completion of the programs and status of the local government’s compliance with the deadlines in its housing element. That report shall be considered at an annual public meeting before the legislative body where members of the public shall be allowed to provide oral testimony and written comments.
The report may include the number of units that have been substantially rehabilitated, converted from non-affordable to affordable by acquisition, and preserved consistent with the standards set forth in paragraph (2) of subdivision (c) of Section 65583.1. The report shall document how the units meet the standards set forth in that subdivision.
(Cited from: )
Facebook Willow Campus Expansion Plan, Menlo Park
OMA New York (Design and Image) posted by John Gendall, Architectural Digest July 7, 2017:

New construction is a hot button topic in Silicon Valley, often pitting neighbors against neighbors and sometimes leading to long, intense public hearings, as residents fight to protect heritage neighborhoods from high density, mixed-use sites near their homes and schools. (Mixed use = retail, office and housing in one development.)  Residents have watched as once-adequate parking lots have been eliminated and replaced by new structures, causing customers to park in front of residential homes nearby. Some residents now shop and dine in other cities where parking is still adequate, providing easier access for families and seniors. Local businesses seem to be hurt by over-development of sites, which leaves few parking spaces for customers.

Many new, mixed-use developments employ what Silicon Valley residents refer to as, "the Santana Row model," where shared-wall, two to three-story, Victorian-style retail and restaurant buildings, open to a central, landscaped lane with sidewalks, mini-parks, sidewalk cafes and bars. In this model, the retail facades hide adjacent high-density condos and apartments, which are part of the development.

The Santana Row model is meant to replicate the popular charm of downtown Los Gatos, a City which preserved its heritage buildings and parks, becoming a popular evening and weekend destination for diners, strollers and shoppers.

Santana Row feels like an old-fashioned town square in Europe, where people wear their best clothes to stroll the central, tree-shaded lane between high-end merchants like Tesla, Gucci and Kate Spade after a meal, a glass of wine or while window shopping. A burger may cost $20 due to the high cost to merchants in maintaining this contrived ambiance, yet residents seem to love the experience, despite the increasing lack of nearby parking and very dark paths to existing parking areas, some across a six-lane street just a few blocks from a major freeway entrance.

The Santana Row Project in San Jose by Streetworks-Studio
(The two left parking lots were lost to new commercial structures.)

The social platform, NextDoor, which is used by many Silicon Valley cities and local agencies for targeted dissemination of community information, has long been a mine field of local development controversy, easily rivaling the political divisiveness seen elsewhere in the nation both in tone and in harsh responses to neighbors with differing points of view on development issues. Several anti-development groups are very active in Santa Clara, Cupertino and Palo Alto Nextdoor neighborhoods, with some members serving as Nextdoor Leads, steering comments to oppose or promote local growth. Nextdoor recognizes that its platform may be a player in the 2018 election cycle due to SV's dynamic and engaged population, particularly in San Jose.

2015 Scale Model - Apple Park in Cupertino

Probably the most interesting and inclusive perspective on the state of Silicon Valley housing is provided by Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a group which seeks to set "a neutral forum for collaborative regional thinking and leadership from both the public and private sectors." 

Joint Venture Silicon Valley holds a State of the Valley Conference each February highlighting the status of local industry, innovation, entrepreneurship, housing and transportation, plus speakers and panels on concepts designed to improve Valley life and innovation. As of this writing, the 2017 Silicon Valley Index report may be found online at:

Joint Venture Silicon Valley and its member organizations developed a Housing Toolkit for their Grand Boulevard Initiative, which they hope will improve the length of El Camino Real from San Jose to San Mateo. They and their partners have shown incredible insight when approaching the Valley's housing needs combined with the needs of the organized preservation and historical community and those who need transportation variety. The Housing Toolkit site names goals and funding which support the need for preserving heritage homes and structures, while providing grants and assistance for new, low-cost housing and transportation. A summary of the Grand Boulevard Initiative may be found at:

Samsung America Headquarters in San Jose

Agreement on housing needs in Silicon Valley requires patient, thoughtful collaboration and the welcome residents have always shown to newcomers and new, innovative ideas. Our valley has been immeasurably enriched by past and current residents, by those who have arrived here to work with specialized education and knowledge, and by those who strive here based on their love of family and a desire to provide a better life for their children. Our combined vision is needed to solve the ongoing housing shortage in our region.

The older buildings and homes some work to preserve today, were built by new residents during past eras. Those pioneers were the innovators of their day, just as we are today's innovators and planners, hoping to provide a means for our children (and their children) to live where they work, here in Silicon Valley.

Housing, overhead parks and retail near the new Apple Park ("Spaceship") in Cupertino
Copyright image: Architect Rafael Viñoly and OLIN Studio 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Silicon Valley Historical Societies, Aging Pioneers and Locked Doors

I thought it might be time to comment on some of the historical groups and associations in our region, many of whom are doing amazing work to preserve our local history and keep their doors open. Sadly, some seem to be failing in their mission to inform newer residents about our past, or to display what they own in online collections, keeping some local city histories locked up in file cabinets behind closed doors, due to an aging volunteer base, poor leadership and other chronic issues.

I make that latter comment with a compassionate caveat, since it is our choice as residents to support historical institutions and associations with our personal and corporate volunteer time, money, skills and resources, and to insure that our neighborhood's pasts and histories are preserved and displayed for future generations, online and in person. 

(Pinterest - Unknown Source)
Yet, it is also our role as residents to ask historical societies and museums for more accessibility to their records and the artifacts in their collections, when repositories seem more often closed than open to residents and visitors, especially on evenings and weekends, or when their events seem more tied to local fiction authors than presentations by historians. 

(Yes, I can hear museum executives and boards exclaiming over funding and the lack of volunteers, yet many historic associations are supported by area Rotary, Chamber and City Council members, who could more effectively seek regional support for the museums in their cities, so museum curators may focus on managing and growing their volunteers and collections, rather than constant fundraising efforts.) 

Why maintain strong museums, from a local business point of view? Strong museums draw new and continuing tourism and trade to our cities.

Historically, preserved historic regions draw greater foot traffic to local restaurants and businesses, as residents have observed on North Santa Cruz Avenue and the west end of University Avenue in downtown Los Gatos, on Big Basin Way in downtown Saratoga, on Castro Street in Mountain View, on Old Murphy Avenue in Sunnyvale, in the quaint neighborhoods around the Rose Garden and the University of Santa Clara, everywhere in historic downtown Los Altos and on the west end of Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen. Typically, historic associations and museums crop up in these historic districts, often in historic buildings.

Since strong museums in historically preserved areas are profitable for cities and the local businesses which surround them, they deserve more dynamic support from local corporations, Chambers of Commerce and City Council members.

CDC: Zombie Preparedness
Don't let me scare you off, this is not going to be a plea for your money or time, since many in SV are already overwhelmed with work, kids' schedules and lack of downtime, while battling some of the worst urban traffic north of LA. 

If you can stay with me for just a bit longer, I promise this won't be painful and you might learn something interesting about your region. Will you hang in there a bit longer? Great, thanks so much.

Why preserve our history? Because it is fascinating, unexpected and varied:

1. Did you know that our area was a home for East Coast and European sea captains who retired from hauling men and goods to the 1875 Gold Rush in San Francisco, then brought their vineyard and wine making knowledge to what is now Silicon Valley? Captain Elijah Stephens ("Stevens Creek Boulevard" has his name, although misspelled) was one such English captain known for his brandies in West Side (now Cupertino.) His vineyards became part of what is now Blackberry Farm.

2. We have the oldest commercial winery in Northern California (pre-dating the loudest claimant, Buena Vista Winery. )  Old Almaden Winery still sits in a small park in San Jose. Sadly, corporate donors have not yet been found to retrofit the old brick winery structure to make it and its underground wine cave safe as a future wine history museum.
Ollivia de Havilland Wikipedia Commons

3. Did you know that Saratoga was once the childhood home of Gone with the Wind actor Olivia de Havilland, her sister, Joan Fontaine (Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca and Suspicion), and their mother, Lost Weekend actor, Lillian Fontaine? Both daughters won Academy Awards for their roles in the above movies and were active in local Saratoga school productions.

4) Did you know that Monte Sereno's Fred Hitt ran a fireworks factory there? (His pharmacist brother, Thomas Hitt, made fireworks in Washington State.) Both brothers were noted for producing the battle scenes, explosions and fires for All Quiet on the Western Front, the burning of Atlanta scenes in Gone with the Wind, and a re-enactment of the eruption of Mt. Lassen including lava pours, explosions and smoke, when that National Park was opened to the public in the 1930's.

Disneyand Railroad Wikipedia Commons
5) Did you know that Los Gatos was home to an orchardist and former railroad roustabout, Billy Jones, who built a railroad line around the perimeter of his Los Gatos ranch, then gave neighbors rides on that steam locomotive every Sunday, attracting Walt Disney when he heard about Jones' generosity to local children? When Disneyland opened in Anaheim on July 17, 1955, Jones was asked to be the first engineer on Disneyland Railroad, taking the first visitors on the Grand Circle Tour around the new theme park.

6) Did you know that Sunnyvale's Fremont High School, formerly known as West Side Union High School, and the old Cupertino Union Grammar School, reportedly produced many notables and millionaires from their former study body members? Notable names have included members of the Paul Mariani family and Apple's Greg Porter.

7) Guess how many of these stories I discovered at local museums and their online sites? (Answer: Only story #3, at the Saratoga Historical Foundation Museum, run by Foundation President, Annette Stransky.)

Kudos to the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County for placing many early recovered Santa Clara Valley home and commercial videos online in converted digital editions, and to Jim Reed, Curator Emeritus, and Cate Mills, Curator of Library and Archives at History San José, for making many images and documents in the extensive HSJ collection searchable online.

Kudos also to the continuing work of Mary Hanel of the Santa Clara Central Park Library Heritage Pavilion and SCCHGS, who continues to work with local historical groups in retirement. Applause to the California History Room: Local History Collection at the Martin Luther King Jr. Branch of the San Jose Public Library System, for their resources which may be accessed seven days a week.

Likewise, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the astonishingly comprehensive work of John Hollar and the team at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, who offer visitors an imaginative visual and hands-on experience with our digital history.

Yet, there are still so many historical groups in this region doing their best to preserve one small corner of early Valley life with dwindling resources and volunteers, let alone digital collection, preservation and presentation skills.

Some historic groups still resist using email to distribute their membership newsletters and event updates, and many do not respond to email requests nor update aging Web sites, despite prodding by newer board members (who sometimes quit in frustration, when their advice to modernize meets chronic resistance, month after month.)

Elijah Stephens (CHSM)
I urge residents (and struggling historic groups) to share their early videos, images and documents with the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County, with History San José, with SCCHGS, with SJPL and with the Online Archive of California, so our early histories do not remain locked in file cabinets behind closed doors, year after year.

If you have a moment, stop by your local museum or history association one weekend to see what they have to offer. If their doors are frequently closed, write to your local Chamber of Commerce, your local Rotary Club and your City Council members, to ask their support in making the rooms and resources of your local museum or history association more available to working residents, so families may explore regional holdings together.

If the doors of your local museum or history association are open frequently, both on weekends and perhaps even one weeknight, please drop a $1 (or as much as you can afford) in their donation box, then find out what their future plans are for expansion, both online or on site.

The collected information about our regional roots will amaze you, once you finally gain access to museums and history associations responsible for our collective pasts.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Drought, Aquifer Wars and Sonar Dowsing

Interestingly enough, California has been affected by many droughts in past years, with the worst period of recorded drought (since the inception of hydrology) occurring between 1928-34, 1976-77, 1987-92 and 2007-09.

How droughts occur:

California's water tables depend on a few Pacific coastal storms occurring between November and March each year. If a Pacific high pressure system lingers off the coast preventing those storms from depositing rain or snow in winter months, dry conditions in California and Silicon Valley, may last throughout the year, or a few years, if high pressure systems recur in consecutive years.

Uvas reservoir, Creative Commons 

Likewise, according to E. R. Cook at Earth Science Reviews (as illustrated by the Mercury news), the Western United States has experienced prior 200-year droughts during the European Middle Ages, so some feel our shorter periods of drought are of less concern in terms of climate change. Of course, that hypothesis is controversial, since access to water remains a political and economic source of dispute for many Californians engaged in agriculture or near large urban cities, where the bulk of city water may be imported from other counties yet used more for landscaping than for food production.

Mercury News Illustration

Unrestricted groundwater drilling: An ongoing California problem:

Sadly, the creation of new California wells in agricultural regions has more than doubled in the last several years, with apparently no State records or monitoring taking place for privately-drilled wells (which now occur at much deeper depths than in past years) and which continue to deplete state aquifers, according to a July 2015 Water in the West Stanford University report. These privately-held wells reportedly are allowed to drain their California aquifer source dry, unlike wells in other states where extracted water is monitored so aquifers are not significantly depleted, according to an August 2014 National Geographic report on the boom in groundwater drilling in California's Central Valley.

New Legislation to protect aquifers: Too little too late?

New California legislation on groundwater pumping may be too little too late to save heavily-tapped aquifers, since many changes in new California laws will not take place until 2020, based on resistance from California agricultural lobbyists who have fought to allow Central Valley farmers access to new wells without extraction limits. Under the new laws drillers have 5 to 7 years to develop extraction plans, yet have until 2040 to implement them, time which may be used to repeal these new laws by agricultural lobbyists, as composition of the State legislature changes over time.

New sonar devices measure water source depth, aiding proportional usage limitations:

According to a Cal Alumni Association article, "The predominant techniques used to measure well water levels—measuring tapes or pressure sensors—are labor-intensive and costly. The U.S. Geological Survey monitors less than 10 percent of its 20,000 wells, California’s Department of Water Resources monitors a few hundred." The article continues to state that the development of new sonar devices which not only locate aquifers but monitor their depth, may aid local legislation efforts to monitor water extraction, so new agricultural wells are no longer draining water resources and aquifers completely dry in some regions of California.

Resurgence of Dowsers in agricultural and Wine Country regions:

"Water witches," or dowsers, those who use so-called divining rods (parallel hand-held metal rods) to locate underground sources of water, have been in high demand since the current drought has lingered and water restrictions have increased. Many practitioners are members of the American Society of Dowsers which has a San Jose chapter with both "spiritual" healing and water dowsers. The ASD also has a Water for Humanity Fund which seeks to use practical dowsing to improve global water sourcing and global water purification projects, among other goals. Their water dowsers have been particularly popular in the Wine Country.

"Pretty much all the farmers I know won't drill a well if they don't have a dowser," said Napa Valley vintner Marc Mondavi, of the famous wine-making family, who happens to be a dowser. Two years ago, Mondavi released a new label - a Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay called the Divining Rod - a tribute to his dowsing. Pretty much all of my weekends are spent dowsing. I'm backlogged."

(SVL Note: We did a blind test of dowsing at a gathering in a rural wine country area, by loosely holding parallel metal rods near a hidden water source known to only one attendee, yet not revealed to those present. About 30% of those who tried dowsing experienced crossed rods over the water source, while the remaining attendees experienced no reaction. Again, we were not told where the hidden water source existed, we were told to walk around while loosely holding the rods parallel in our hands, "then see what happens." The metal rods in my hands crossed rapidly over the water source, much like a magnet attracts a metal object. It was completely unexpected.)

Marc Mondavi demo at Charles Krug

Dowsing practitioners like Mondavi claim a 95% success rate in locating water, yet without adequate regulations protecting California's aquifers from continued, non-monitored drilling and extraction, or a per unit reduction in the state's ABAG Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) mandate to provide low cost housing in proportion to new office development in Silicon Valley cities, California's water from all sources, may be in scarce supply by 2040.

Take the California Water Challenge Quiz online:

Next 10, a San Francisco-based ecological non-profit, hosts an online California Water Challenge Quiz and fact sheet which presents some interesting facts and water use alternatives for residents, along with the ability for residents to submit grass roots ideas on water conservation which might positively impact the availability of California's natural resources in future years.

The Next 10 Water FAQ's and Quiz may be found at:


Resources online and at your local library:

To find a recent book or article on California's water challenges at your local library, check this list of titles on OCLC.

To find a book on Dowsing at your local library, check this list of titles on OCLC.

To find a book on California drought history and hydrology at your local library, check this list of titles on OCLC.

To find a book on California legislation and well drilling technology at your local library, check this list of titles on OCLC.

To find current California State Water Code, see the California Water Code list at Leginfo.

To find recent or pending state legislation on California wells, safety, drilling and water extraction, see the current bill list at Leginfo.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day and the Forgotten Comfort Women of WWII

Silicon Valley may have it's first monument to the suffering of "Comfort Women," the young women and girls who were coerced into sexual slavery in Imperial Japanese Army-occupied East Asia during WWII, if a monument to remember the Holocaust and World Genocide is approved by one of our local cities

To date, discussions on erecting a monument of this type have been tabled, apparently based on possible controversy with partners in local sister City programs. A group of area residents continue to revise and redesign memorial plans to accommodate concerns, hoping to to revisit approval for a world genocide memorial at future council sessions, much like the group who assisted Sonoma State University achieve consensus for it's elegant, educational Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove, mentioned below:

"Hundreds of bricks display the messages of love, honor and hope. This project was launched by a few people with a budget of hope and promise, the joint efforts of the Sonoma State University School of Social Sciences, The Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, The Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust, and donor principal donor Mr. David Salm. It was made possible, too, by the generosity of the whole community and especially the businesses who have extended themselves in a most meaningful way to affirm the phrase 'Never again.' ”
Sonoma State University
Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove

Why Remember Comfort Women?

Comfort Women have been viewed as victims of genocide, since many of the girls and young women who were coerced into sexual slavery during WWII, were left at the front to die by retreating Imperial Japanese Army troops. 

Likewise, many surviving Comfort Women were left infertile due to shots they were given to control venereal diseases during the war.

 Sonoma State University, after careful deliberation and study, erected a Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove on campus. The focus of the memorial is a lovely sculpture by Jann Nunn which serves as a beacon for peace, when lit after dark. 

Tiles with names of those who were lost to genocide form stylistic railroad ties under metal rods representing train tracks. These "track" converge under the green glass memorial, in a peaceful grove setting near a man-made lake on campus.

A quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is inscribed at the base of the cylindrical sculpture:
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
You may view a segment of  the 2009 Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove Dedication Ceremony at Sonoma State University below, or at:

Jan Ruff-O'Herne, a Netherlander, who
was forced to serve as a Comfort
Woman at 17, in a WWII Imperial Japanese
Army Comfort Station in East Asia.
The History of Comfort Women During WWII

In 1932 the first Comfort Station in Shanghai was allegedly staffed by "volunteer" Japanese prostitutes. As the war expanded into Eastern Asia, more comfort stations were required by the Imperial Japanese Army, however, "volunteers" could not be found to fill new locations. More aggressive actions were employed to coerce, force or trick women and young girls into sexual slavery from regions surrounding new Imperial Japanese Army encampments beyond Shanghai. 

There is controversy as to whether the army or their agents or both, engaged in the coercion. What is clear, however, is that girls and women were sexually exploited and held captive for up to three years during the war, and in some cases murdered or left to die by retreating Imperial soldiers.

Girls and women from Korea, China, the Philippines, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Netherlands Dutch East Indies and Australia, were reportedly among victims coerced into sexual slavery for Imperial Japanese Army bases in East Asia.

The girls and women were called ianfu by the Japanese, a euphemism meaning, "Comfort Women." Some teenagers and women came from vulnerable circumstances and were offered work in factories and laundries, yet were sent to fill new Comfort Stations outside of Shanghai, then not allowed to leave or return home. 

Other Dutch women, like Jan Ruff-O'Herne (pictured above left) were found among girls living in Japanese concentration camps, who were told to line up and be inspected by Imperial Japanese Army officers. Officers selected girls from the lineup, then transported them to a military brothel, where they were told to either submit to officers or be murdered, and as O'Herne states, were raped repeatedly soon after they arrived.

Video of Jan Ruff-O'Herne and her daughters, telling her WWII story:

According to Japanese military documents, the Comfort Stations were developed to prevent local "rape crimes" by Japanese Imperial troops. 

Surviving Comfort Women like Jan Ruff-O'Herne, report that they were raped multiple times each day by troops, with the number of rapes multiplied 4 to 5 times over weekends.

Reparations for Surviving Comfort Women

Former Comfort Woman Ok-seon Lee at a
shelter for former sex workers. Guardian

Ok-seon Lee, (right) who stated that she was coerced into sexual slavery as a 15-year-old hotel worker and waslater stabbed by an Imperial Japanese Army officer, visited Washington DC to celebrate the anniversary of (2007) House Resolution 121 during a July 17, 2013 reception at the House of Representatives.

H. Res. 121 read, in summary: 
"The Government of Japan should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Force’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as ‘‘comfort women’’, during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II."
Previously, in August 4, 1993, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan had issued what has become known as the Kono Statement, which stated in part:
"The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. The Government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere.

Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women.
The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women."
In a March 2014 statement Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe responded to conservative Japanese politicians who requested that Abe, "water down" the 1993 Kono apology to Comfort women, alleging there was "no evidence of large-scale coercion by government authorities or the military." Abe refused, stating to a parliamentary panel:
"With regard to the 'comfort women' issue, I am deeply pained to think of the comfort women who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering, a feeling I share equally with my predecessors."

"The Kono Statement addresses this issue ... and, as my Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga stated in news conferences, the Abe Cabinet has no intention to review it."
Many surviving Comfort Women and their families believe that an apology is not enough.

In 2007 there was some confusion over how funds and services for reparations to Comfort Women were being handled, according to the BBC. Some Japanese citizens raised private funds for compensation to surviving Comfort Women through the Asian Women's Fund. However, the BBC states that in some cases, the money went to medical centers and homes for the elderly, rather than to victims, while a few survivors received $16,700 from the fund.

NPR has developed a slide-show on the testimonies of some surviving Comfort Women, some of whom state that they were coerced into sexual slavery and raped at just 10 years of age.

There were an estimated 200,000 women from East Asia who were trafficked as Comfort Women during WWII, according to historians, so the lack of memorials to these exploited women and girls, is troubling to many worldwide. 

Chinese and Malaysian girls held at an
Imperial Japanese Army Comfort Station during WWII
Koreans have spearheaded a movement to preserve the legacy of Comfort Women, so their suffering is not lost to history. 

In Seoul, Korea, the bronze statue of a seated Korean girl, representing a coerced WWII Comfort Woman, faces the Japanese Embassy in silent tribute.

Korean residents in Glendale, California, moved to erect a twin statue of the Seoul memorial statue at Glendale Central Park, yet were met with resistance from some in the Japanese community, who claimed that all military Comfort Women "were there voluntarily," which is only true in regards to the first Shanghai Comfort Station of 1932.

Some Japanese-American residents found the memorial "divisive," yet other residents referred to the statue as a "Peace Monument."

A similar outcry took place when a monument to Comfort Women was erected in Palisades Park, New Jersey in 2010. Japanese-American residents and representatives from the Japanese government asked the city council there to have it removed. However, Mayor James Rotundo stated that the monument was there for educational purposes, to raise awareness of the role of Comfort Women in WWII history.

Gendale city council member Frank Quintero stated that many complaints about the memorial came from Japan, where some believed that the so-called, "Rape of Nanking" was also a fabricated story, despite the fact that Japanese veterans who served in Nanking in December 1937, admitted that a massive slaughter of non-combatants took place.

Bok-Dong Kim, Survivor, Glendale
WWII Comfort Women Memorial
Contra Costa Times
Historians estimate that the number of civilians slaughtered in Nanking could be anywhere from 40,000 to 200,000, over the six-week period of time when the Japanese attack took place. 

Existing photos show some prisoners of the Imperial Japanese Army being buried alive, and some mothers and daughters raped with sticks, bottles and other weapons, then having expired from their injuries. 

Massacre photos were captured in a December 13, 1937 film by American Episcopal priest, John Magee, who was a missionary to Nanking at the time of the Imperial Japanese Army assault.

Magee was credited with saving thousands of lives during the slaughter. His witness to that event is memorialized at Yale University's Digital Archive of  Documents and Photos from American Missionaries who Witnessed the Rape of Nanking.

Currently there are only four memorials to Comfort Women in the United States

Why a Silicon Valley Monument Remembering Genocide During WWII?

Honoring and remembering the girls and women who were often fatally coerced into sexual slavery during WWII after the first "voluntary" Shanhai Comfort Station was expanded, as well as other nations who lost citizens to genocidal events in world history, remains important in returning dignity and respect to those who were affected.

Jan Ruff-O'Herne & surviving Comfort Women, Japan, 1993
Sydney Morning Herald
By remembering thousands of Australian, East Asian and Netherlander Dutch East Indies women during World War II, the stories of those women will not be lost to history. 

Public memorials, like the monument being considered by one Silicon Valley city, serve to raise awareness and prevent similar atrocities, reducing the likelihood that atrocities will be repeated, based on increasing public education on world history. 

A public memorial may also serve to lift an undeserved residue of shame from those girls and women who were coerced and exploited into sexual slavery during WWII, yet have remained unable to speak of their wartime experiences and achieve healing. A growing wave of civic and global compassion for the suffering of Comfort Women through public monuments and programs, has slowly transformed the dynamic of hidden shame into a public recognition of courage and fortitude. 

A public memorial may also serve to remove the veil of shame from contemporary victims of sexual assault and coercion, a silent yet profound gift to the many abused or exploited women and girls in our communities. 

If we can acknowledge the Holocaust in our history books and monuments, without first paring-down history to avoid offending those Americans of Austrian, German or Eastern European descent, we certainly may acknowledge the whole-scale coercion, exploitation and rape, of many thousands of East Asian, Australian and Netherlander Dutch East Indies women and girls during WWII, as viewed through the lens of documented records from the WWII era, where the massive and continued exploitation of women and girls was deemed an acceptable act of war.


The Conflict Surrounding UNAIDS and UN Resolutions Monitoring
Trafficking and Prostitution Near Military Bases:

Since prostitution near military bases has became a national and international issue, the United Nations, in 1950, attempted a treaty to monitor human trafficking and houses of prostitution. (Near military bases, these women were sometimes called "minor wives," since servicemen returned to the same woman regularly and often left children behind on exiting the service and returning home.) 

The most notable UN Resolution on this issue was the 1985 report, Activities for the advancement of women: equality, development, and peace: report of Jean Fernand-Laurent, special rapporteur on the suppression of the traffic in persons and the exploitation of the prostitution of others, found at WorldCat online, which also displays where you may find this publication in your area.

The UN history of Chapter VII: Traffic in Persons (Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others) may be found on the UN Web site, which includes a record of each country's comments on Chapter VII as it pertains to their nation.

Recently, in 2013 the United Nations group UNAIDS was criticized for wanting to decriminalize "voluntary" global prostitution in order to better control AIDS and reduce sexual assaults and abuse, as stated in their 2012 report

Many critics disagreed with the 2012 UNAIDS report, stating that global decriminalization of voluntary prostitution might lead to an increase in the illegal trafficking and exploitation of women and girls, supposedly working under the guise of "voluntary" service. It might not be easily proven that some so-called "voluntary" sex workers were in actuality, involuntary sex workers being held under duress due to enslavement or financial obligations to their employers. 


Please also see my article about the Internment of the Japanese in the Bay Area during World War II


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Shasta Dam, Cement Plants and Liberty Ships: Henry J. Kaiser, the City of Cupertino and the battle to reduce Silicon Valley Mercury pollution

Not many people realize that old Silicon Valley has ties with Shasta Dam and the Liberty Ships of WWII, through industrialist Henry J. Kaiser.

Kaiser Overseas War Relief Poster
Kaiser, owner of Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel, was reportedly most well known for his Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, California, where he built Liberty and Victory ships during World War II.

He was noted for the innovation of using welding instead of rivets to build ships in just 5 days, a skill which could be taught quickly to inexperienced workers during WWII. Kaiser got the idea to use welding after one of his associates visited a Ford Motor Plant and watched workers on the assembly line. 

Unfortunately the early ship welds cracked in cold temperatures (called, "brittle fracture"), causing some Liberty ship hulls to break in two at sea, before the hull design and welding process were more closely monitored between 1947-1955.

It is interesting to learn that Kaiser was also affiliated with the Joshua Hendy Iron Works in Sunnyvale, which built the EC-2 Triple Expansion Steam Engines for the Liberty ships Kaiser was constructing in Richmond. More history on Hendy Iron Works may be found at the Iron Man Museum, housed at the Northrop Grumman Marine Systems Plant in Sunnyvale.

Liberty Ship Triple Expansion Steam Engine
During the construction of Liberty ships, Kaiser saw the need to provide a 10-bed emergency field hospital for workers in a wooden shed at his Richmond Kaiser Shipyards, which were the basis for the Kaiser Permanente medical plans and hospitals which are still in existence today. The original Kaiser Field Hospital in Richmond expanded to 160 beds by 1944, and continued to modernize until it finally closed in 1995 to become the "Rosie the Riveter" historical landmark and musem.

During the war era, Henry and Bess Kaiser owned a cabin along Permanente Creek above Cupertino, where  Bess felt the creek's name would also be a good name for their Kaiser health foundation, since Permanente creek ran perpetually, year-round, much like their health care for Alameda ship workers.

What was once known as the Kaiser Permanente Cement Plant in 1939 before WWII, or Permanente Quarry (also named after Permanente Creek), was incorporated for the construction of Shasta Dam, completed in 1944, to extract the unique seamount limestone from the hills above Cupertino, creating gravel, mortar and cement for dam construction. 

(Kaiser Permanente Quarry seems not to be related to the 1918 construction of ferrocement ships in Oakland or concrete barges later in 1943. Likewise, the concrete ship SS Palo Alto, which now resides at Sea Cliff Beach in Aptos, does not seem to be related to Kaiser Permanente Quarry or the Kaiser shipyards.)

An old railway line which can be seen near Hwy 85 and Stevens Creek Boulevard (near Cupertino Post Office), was once used to transport lime from the Kaiser Cement Plant to shippers for dam construction.

USDI/BR - Last bucket of cement used for Shasta Dam - 1944
Unfortunately, the Cupertino Kaiser Permanente Quarry has been an alleged source of ongoing pollution and controversy, since passing from Kaiser's ownership and becoming Lehigh Southwest Cement (a Heidelberg Cement Group affiliate)

Petroleum coke used to fuel lime production (since 2007), which along with limestone, off-gasses mercury emissions during processing, has led some to believe that the Cupertino Lehigh Cement plant allegedly is responsible for 29% of all Bay Area airborne mercury emissions, perhaps impacting Calero Reservoir, 20 miles away, as well as local waterways.
Since mercury is a significant neurotoxin as well as a pollutant, and can become concentrated in local waterways, mercury now exists at allegedly 5.8 to 6.7 times higher in waterways near the Lehigh Cement plant, than at a site 2 miles away.

Likewise, groundwater is pumped into Permanente Creek from Lehigh quarry, so Selenium pollution in the creek (downstream from Lehigh quarry) was also found, indicating that the Lehigh quarry is allegedly the source of the pollution

"Quarry operations at the (Lehigh) cement plant have resulted in sediment discharges into Permanente Creek that are 3.5 times what would be expected under normal conditions," according to the USGS. This sediment threatens local fish, which can no longer be safely eaten from Stevens Creek Reservoir or Rancho San Antonio Reservoir, due to mercury pollution levels from the Lehigh Cement plant, according the to City of Cupertino.

Lehigh Cement Quarry above Cupertino Schools and
Homes, near  Rancho San Antonio Preserve and Reservoir
Google Maps 

Lehigh Southwest Cement has been the target of numerous environmental court cases and lawsuits brought by local cities and environmental groups. 

Bay Area federal and regional water and air quality monitoring agencies and the Sierra Club, have also closely followed mercury and selenium pollution from Lehigh Cement, to counter apparent failures by state EPA monitors to accurately assess risks from plant emissions.

Mercury News 6-4-2010 Report sites risks

Lehigh has worked to to bolster it's public relations efforts in the Valley, making large monetary and in-kind donations to the Cupertino Senior Center, the Cupertino Museum and Historical Society, and other local civic groups.

Brass wall plaques can be seen at the Senior Center, West Valley Community Services, and Quinlan Center (near the Cupertino Historical Museum), noting Lehigh Cement contributions to those entities, where Lehigh representatives also serve on boards of directors.

Unfortunately, the 20 worst mercury contamination sites in the state include five sites in Santa Clara Valley, with the worst being Almaden Lake. While some mercury pollution can be attributed to the Almaden Quicksilver Mines, the presence of Lehigh Cement pollution is also alleged to be a contributing factor to mercury pollution in our West Valley reservoirs and waterways, according the City of Cupertino.

Santa Clara Valley Water District
Posted Mercury pollution/unsafe Fish Sign
Most recently a $20 million judgment against Lehigh was won by the Sierra Club ($10 million for the clean up of Permanente Creek, plus a $10 million bond, ensuring the work would be done in a timely manner).

A Cease and Desist Order was pending against Lehigh Cement for anticipated inability to reach new cement plant EPA requirements in 2014, yet may not be implemented if restrictions are met.

The City of Cupertino has documented pollution, violations and lawsuits against Lehigh Cement to raise public awareness about mercury and selenium pollution. A chronology of citations and lawsuits, as well as public hearings concerning Lehigh Cement pollution, may now be found on the Cupertino City Web site.