It goes without saying that the last 12 months have been brutal and exhausting, fraught with challenges as a deadly, global pandemic completely upended the way people go about their lives.
Businesses, previously thriving, have shut down or are on the brink of financial disaster, while teachers and children were forced to adjust to online learning while schools remain shuttered. Working from home became the norm, turning formerly jammed roads into traffic-free ghost towns, and many of the most vulnerable Bay Area residents were suddenly out of work and short on rent money.
But with the challenges came compassion and an outpouring of support. Local teens either bought or fabricated protective equipment for health care workers. Others pitched in by making sure hospital workers top-notch were fed while working long, dangerous hours. Some charitable families took the unusual path of helping needy families by paying for laundromat services.
Mountain View was also among the cities blindsided by extensive civil unrest in response to police violence, prompting a new wave of mostly young activists demanding real change -- and budget cuts -- to their local police department. Police officials said at the time that it felt like facing the Great Depression, the 1918 Spanish Flu and the 1968 civil rights movement all at once.
And with 2020 now in the rearview mirror and a flood of retrospectives try to make sense of the maelstrom, many of the same problems are still here in 2021.
The coronavirus pandemic that left an indelible mark on the world is still raging, with an infectious spread that is packing local hospitals and leaving everyday residents wondering whether it's safe to go to the grocery store.
In some ways, Mountain View was near the epicenter of the pandemic's beginning. A confirmed case was discovered in late February, and the second known COVID-19 death in California was reported at El Camino Hospital shortly thereafter. Two days after the woman's death, the World Health Organization on March 11 officially declared a global pandemic.
What followed was a wave of fear and a sudden drop in business activity -- people stayed home rather than go shopping or dine out. Downtown businesses reported serious declines in customers and saw Castro Street turn into a ghost town, well before Santa Clara County's public health officials announced the start of stay-at-home orders in March.
City Manager Kimbra McCarthy, who had just started on the job that month, was immediately faced with making an emergency declaration that curtailed or outright shut down city services.
Since then, city officials have kept a laser-like focus on three major problems: How do you keep people housed, how do you keep businesses alive and what can be done to curb the spread of the virus.
On the housing front, City Council members poured an unusually generous amount of city funds towards rent relief -- a quick and seemingly effective way to keep those out of work from ending up on the streets during a pandemic when the safest thing to do was stay at home. On the business front, the city shut down Castro Street to make room for outdoor dining, and has since launched a small business action plan.
The city's response was hailed by nonprofit leaders as a generous way to keep renters in their homes as COVID-19 eviction protections are poised to expire early this year. It also filled a vast unmet need that regional fundraising efforts had no chance of filling.
But the resources do little to help the hundreds of people who are already homeless in Mountain View and particularly vulnerable to the virus, many of whom live in cars and RVs lining city streets. In a rare stroke of good luck in 2020, just weeks before the pandemic began, the city was finally able to launch its safe parking program in earnest, allowing vehicle dwellers to stay in designated parking lots and receive free support services. The program has grown in popularity since then, and now houses 148 people living in 68 RVs.
The safe parking lots are temporarily in nature, however, and may soon be in even higher demand. City voters approved in November a ballot measure that would ban oversized vehicles from parking on most city streets, including roads that have been de facto RV parks in recent years. City officials plan to slow-walk the implementation starting in April.
It's unclear, going into 2021, if the city has the wherewithal to keep up its support for the homeless and renters in need. Early budget projections found Mountain View will fare much better than other cities and should be able to avoid major cuts, but grossly miscalculated how long the pandemic and the stay-at-home orders would last. The worry at the time was that the stay-at-home orders would be extended into June 2020.
Though an acute, temporary blow to the budget, the virus abruptly ended close to a decade of economic prosperity that left Mountain View's city coffers flush with cash.
The last year will be remembered as a time when you couldn't do much. Depending on the day, residents could not go to the beach, get a haircut, eat at their favorite restaurant or attend a concert, graduation or church service.
The changing landscape of public health orders, largely determined by Santa Clara County public health officials, defined 2020 by creating a constant tension between safety and the freedom of unfettered economic and social activity. Announcements that had far-reaching consequences often had little lead time, including sudden changes that left businesses reeling.
After serving customers on a take-out only basis for months, restaurants got a break when outdoor dining was permitted -- a response to growing data showing the airborne virus doesn't spread easily outside.
As the COVID-19 cases began to subside in September, business leaders in the region lobbied hard to get Health Officer Sara Cody to further relax the restrictions and allow for indoor dining, largely seen as one of the riskiest activities. They got their wish in October, only to have a surge in cases quash indoor dining, again.
The most blatant example of whipsawing rule changes took place in July, when businesses including gyms and hair salons were allowed to reopen -- only to be told two days later that they must close down again. Business owners in Mountain View lamented that they spent no small amount of time and money to return to a sense of normalcy, only to have those hopes dashed.
The consequences have been dire, leaving a graveyard of beloved businesses and restaurants. Lee's Comics is no more, Clarke's Charcoal Broiler has shuttered for good and Sweet Tomatoes has abandoned its Mountain View location.
Downtown Mountain View lost Shalala, Flights and HeyOEats, a vegan cafe inside Ava's Downtown Market & Deli.
It was clear by mid-March that the pandemic would force schools to close and require teachers to transition to remote instruction. But how to get there was a mystery, with serious logistical challenges that would take months to sort out.
For parents, it meant having kids at home all the time and assuming a greater role in their day-to-day education. For teachers, it meant translating lesson plans into video meetings and holding the attention of dozens of students with little direct control. Students, meanwhile, lost the normalcy of school and regular social interaction with classmates.
All the while, district officials had to grapple with significant social inequities. In the Mountain View Whisman School District, more than 1,000 students did not have access to a computer at home and would not be able to participate in online lessons. Adding to the so-called digital divide, internet access and Wi-Fi connections were spotty at best for hundreds of students, prompting a rush to turn school parking lots into hotspots.
The early prognosis was optimistic to say the least. Remote learning was supposed to last a brief stopgap measure for two weeks. Then it was two months, and now it's sometime this mornth at the earliest.
Like placing businesses under tight restrictions, school closures have been the subject of fierce debate. Nothing replaces in-person instruction, yet reopening schools runs the risk of getting children or teachers sick with COVID-19. Many teachers said in September that they would be unwilling to return to the classroom -- long before the recent explosion in local cases.
The only school district in Mountain View to reopen is the Los Altos School District, which was one of the few in the county to invite young students back to school. But even at Los Altos, school were subject to temporary closures last month due to unusually high staff absences, and will remain closed until Jan. 11.
If 2020 was the year of school closures and remote learning, then 2021 will likely be the year of school reopenings. California Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a $2 billion plan to reopen schools, including a $450-per-student payment to districts that bring back in-person instruction. The hope is that the cash will help pay for health screenings, masks and other safety protocols to prevent the in-school spread of COVID-19.
The summer of 2020 was a time of impassioned protests and clashes between police and demonstrators, sparking widespread protests across the Bay Area. Though Mountain View saw mostly tame demonstrations, the fears of looting, rioting and property damage were enough to prompt some businesses to board up, and the neighboring city of Palo Alto to institute a curfew.
The catalyst for the protests took place more than 1,500 miles away, when 46-year-old George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. Floyd was stopped by police for allegedly making a purchase with a counterfeit $20 bill on May 25, when Officer Derek Chauvin restrained Floyd by pressing his knee into Floyd's neck for close to 9 minutes and 30 seconds. An autopsy found he had asphyxiated.
Though local police officials were quick to condemn Floyd's death and has gone to great lengths to show the department's progressive policies, the events that took place in May prompted sustained calls for police reform in Mountain View.
New faces started showing up at council meetings -- at least virtually over Zoom -- to demand change. Impassioned speakers, some young and new to city politics, insisted that the city could do more to prevent brutality and racial bias in policing. Council meetings stretched on as speakers called for outside voices to review the department's use-of-force policies, and that there be more transparency regarding misconduct complaints against officers.
But the most crystal clear demand in June was to defund the police, cutting back on the city's $44.8 million law enforcement budget in favor of other services. Many police activities -- like responding to nonviolent incidents including homelessness, drug abuse and mental health crises -- could be better handled by another agency, they argued, and it made sense for the funding to follow.
Council members made small concessions on the budget, but left police department spending largely intact.
Meanwhile, Santa Clara County has embarked on its own path toward police reform, approving a roadmap for reducing violence and excessive use of force by the Sheriff's office. Among other things, the Board of Supervisors has called for a ban on the hiring of officers with a history of excessive force or misconduct complaints, and a prohibition on the use of tear gas and rubber bullets as a method for crowd control.
Those efforts, spearheaded by county Supervisor Joe Simitian, are ongoing and will bleed into 2021. An update in November shows some changes have been swift, while others have been slow and subject to debate.