Author Archives: Denise Lai

About Denise Lai

Alive. Swim (fly is the best). Walking with my dog (weims are the best). Life is good. Would prefer people understood negative externalities and prevented themselves from creating them. Feeling the love anyway.

6′ isn’t enough distancing

“…SARS fomites remain active for about three hours while suspended in air or gas… coronavirus-bearing droplets of all sizes can travel 23 to 27 feet from their host after emission….turbulent gas clouds and respiratory pathogen emissions pose a threat to the public even without the presence of a host. In other words: the longer an individual is outside unprotected, the higher the contraction risk.”

MIT researcher says the 6-feet social distancing rule isn’t enough to flatten the curve

Turbulent Gas Clouds and Respiratory Pathogen Emissions, Potential Implications for Reducing Transmission of COVID-19

Either #WearAFuckingMask or #StayTheFuckHome

Alameda is pretty much a total fail here, so few wear masks when out. This needs to change. EVERYONE SHOULD WEAR A MASK WHEN OUTDOORS.

Hell, yesterday I saw a maskless adult walk directly up to a child crouched on the sidewalk [completely unaware of the adult while doing chalk-drawings] and step OVER her.  WTAF people.



Stop-work orders for all mow/blow teams

If you have mow/blow teams for your home or rental properties, during the Shelter-in-Place order, mow-blow teams are not allowed.
If you have them and haven’t cancelled them, please do for the duration of the ACHPD Shelter-in-Place Order which, for right now, is until May 4, 2020.
The ACPHD order is here. Excerpt:
xii. Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the habitability, sanitation, and operation of residences and Essential Businesses, but not for cosmetic or other purposes;
xiii. Arborists, landscapers, gardeners, and similar service professionals, but only to the limited extent necessary to maintain the habitability, sanitation, operation of businesses or residences, or the safety of residents, employees, or the public (such as fire safety or tree trimming to prevent a dangerous condition), and not for cosmetic or other purposes (such as upkeep); 

Open Source COVID-19 medical supplies for the win!

Serious win-win.
I follow open source COVID-19 medical supply groups who use 3D printers and laser cutters to make medical half-face masks and full-face shields. I mentioned the extraordinary work being done, designs being tested for hospitals, and a wonderful and wonderfully smart human being in Santa Barbara immediately thought: why don’t we put these machines in our hospitals and staff them for PPEs stock and on-demand.
I put her in touch with an engineer in NYC who wanted to discuss this. They had a good conversation.
She put in several calls to her local Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, finally got to the right person who understood her ideas and the technology; that person reached out to the hospital’s partner, the Engineering Department at UCSB.
What happened: the head of UCSB engineering advised what machines and supplies would work for the hospital’s needed designs and production therefor; she bought the machines and supplies for the hospital. The engineering department has the machines and the engineering/staff/volunteers to man the machines and produce what the hospital needs.
My friend’s words: “…every community needs to have their citizens contribute to the cause. It is like a war effort. Small communities especially will not be on the government’s radar, they need to take charge and prepare on their own. Personal and community empowerment are our strongest defenses.”
I was literally i tears when I read her update today, totally verklempt. This is how it’s done people. Read the horrible facts about this virus, know them, and if you aren’t one of the people who personally solve for them, follow those who are, keep the conversation going, and create meaningful discussions around it.  You never know who can get what done.
Networking works! [my friend Bob’s mantra that I adopted years ago, founder, LinkSV.]

30% of #COVID19 cases are asymptomatic and contagious–protect others, protect yourself. WEAR A MASK.

30% of #COVID19 cases are asymptomatic and contagious. This we know.
If 100% of the population wears masks when out, then the 30% of the population that is asymptomatic and contagious will *not* be actively spreading the virus, protecting the other 70%, and the community spread of the virus will plummet. This is what Asian countries know.
America: WAKE UP. WEAR A MASK. Don’t buy what the medical teams need, make your own! Plenty of info online about that. Protect others, protect yourself, and slow the viral community spread. Now. Please.
There are two things we can do ourselves to stop the community spread of SARS-CoV-2.:
1) protect others by wearing any mask at all and washing hands, and
2) protect ourselves through safe behavior, wearing a medical or N99+ [P99 or P100] mask, washing hands, social distance, keeping the things we bring into our home and cars sanitized, keep our home and cars sanitized.
IF you own a medical plain or N99/P100 mask, there’s one way you can sanitize it for re-use (you cannot wash it or spray it with sanitizer, that will degrade the weave and no longer protect you):
Although a 3M mask is best, few of us have those. A homemade mask will prevent droplets from leaving your mouth and landing, for example, on produce in the grocery store, or the touchpad for check out, etc., etc. Source:
If you need to make a mask, be sure to custom fit it tight to your face and consider this information:

Make a mask. Wear it. #COVID-19

“Lower-grade or homemade masks are being used at many hospitals in non-COVID-19 cases to free up medical-grade masks for doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients. Homemade masks can also be used in conjunction with other masks to prolong the life of medical-grade masks, and can be washed for reuse. Some hospital staff are even sewing their own masks. By providing homemade masks to hospitals in dire need, we can help extend the current supply of medical-grade protective gear where it is needed most until additional resources become available.”
Here are a few mask kits and tutorials.
*See at the bottom of this post about fabrics to use, from a textile expert.**
I haven’t found a pattern for what I think works best: fabric reusable mask with tie-on (not elastic loops) with the pocket for a HEPA or MERV13 (or MERV14) filter [gotten from vacuum cleaner bags and FAU filter], with some kind of metal sewn into the top [paper clip?] for fitting around the bridge of the nose. The closet thing to that is this:
Fabric masks will slow SARS-CoV-2 droplet spread (but minimal protection on the aerosol spread). This mask is useful for hospital staff–yes, they know how to allocate this so they can free up N95s for staff. And this is the mask 100% of regular people out and about should be wearing—to protect 100% of the population from the 30% contagious and asymptomatic.
Fabric masks with HEPA or MERV13 inserts will slow both SARS-CoV-2 droplet and aerosol spread and offer some protection from aerosol spread in the air when it’s fitted tightly around the face. This would be more useful in a hospital setting or if you are someone at risk and need to go out of your home.
**Anyone sewing masks in Alameda city, can drop them off on my porch and the nurse across the street from us will take them to the Sutter hospital where she works**
JoAnn Fabrics will give you kits to make masks:
Tieks will give your credit towards shoes for having made and donating them:
MASK MATERIALS MATTER – Revision 1 (re: polyester outermost layer)
If you plan to make DIY facemasks for the COVID-19 crisis, good on you!
It appears that many sites have mask design covered. Make your work count by carefully choosing the materials you use. Don’t use fabric softener or dryer sheets when you launder your final product (see below).
Fair warning: I am a textile scientist with primary expertise in military protective clothing and equipment. I’ve been reading the DIY facemask posts, and I keep wishing someone from the medical textile field would weigh in. Until someone like that does, I offer the following info under “Good Samaritan” rules. I desire and invite immediate corrections!
It appears that the 3-layers of a typical, disposable surgical mask are made of “melt-blown” fabrics. “Melt-blown” fabrics are not the woven or knitted structures in, say, t-shirts and jeans; they are more like paper maiche. Instead of strips of paper stuck together with whey to form a sheet, very thin plastic filaments are stuck *to each other* (thanks Pete Kant!) to form a sheet. The complex layering and overlapping of these thin plastic filaments creates a thicket-like maze that can trap particles. Handy visualizations of melt-blown fabrics are cotton candy and the very cheapest HVAC air filters.
The thin plastic filaments in typical disposable facemasks are a polymer called polypropylene. Polypropylene has two great properties for repelling viruses: it is negatively charged, and it is water-repellent. Now, viruses need water to remain viable, and are also negatively charged. As you recall from 5th grade science class, negative repels negative. Thus, the negatively-charged polypropylene molecule will repel the negatively-charged virus, and because polypropylene also repels water, the virus is denied the moisture it needs to be viable. Ta-da! Yay for polypropylene!
It appears that there may be three separate types of polypropylene fabrics in the facemask: a breathable type for next to mouth, a microfiber filtering type in the middle, and a barrier type on the side facing the world.
The issue for DIYers is that you can’t just go down to your neighborhood fabric store and ask for 10-yards of these three types of melt-blown polypropylene fabric. The closest melt-blown fabric in fabric stores is a product called “interfacing” (e.g., Pellon) which is made of polyester. Fortunately, polyester also repels water, and is also negatively charged – just not as negative as polypropylene. Only the non-fusible kind (i.e., without glue on the back) might do as a substitute but the risk is that the fiber size in interfacing is not micro (no reason for it to be), and the voids between large fibers would allow virus laden particulate to get through. if one made masks using polyester interfacing it would be a lot of a lot of work for something that might not be an effective filter, and would have to be thrown away after one wearing! And interfacing with a smooth texture (similar to the facemask polypropylene) is pretty pricey.
There are many posts on this site that competently re-create the disposable pleated mask design; I believe that a 3-layer, re-useable design (a pleated cloth pocket into which a disposable filter inserted) offers the best balance of DIY effort and practical medical protection. See “Taiwanese Doctor Recommends DIY Cloth Face Mask with Air Filter” for a good description. I recommend specific materials for a re-useable mask below based on what I have learned (above) about what is used in typical disposable 3-layer surgical/medical masks. For all our sakes, I would love any corrections from a true expert.
Outermost layer: microfiber, soft, woven polyester made of textured yarn (do not have a shiny, stiff appearance, and that that look and feel like cotton).
I had previously suggested a particular cottony feeling shower curtain liner (not vinyl or PEVA sheeting) with a dimpled surface texture. I suggested it because I have one on hand and could vouch that is comfortable to wear against my face is:
“Barossa Design Soft Light-Weight Microfiber Fabric Shower Liner or Curtain with Embossed Dots, Hotel Quality, Machine Washable, Water Repellent, White, 70 x 72 inches” $10.99
But since I first posted, some folks have suggested polyester microfiber bed sheets as this layer. i don’t have any on hand, but the more I think about it, the more I agree that those are likley to be the better go-to fabric for the outermost layer. Bedding has to be breathable by definition :to sell well. Look for “brushed microfiber” polyester. Ignore the thread counts – those have become too hard to interpret to be meaningful.
Why: Negatively-charged and water-repellent; polyester yarns that are textured to feel cottony (brushed) are likely to be more breathable as well.
Disposable filtration layer: Swiffer-type heavy-duty sweeper refills, unscented
Why: Easy for medical personnel to find and cut up as replacement filter layer; designed as particle trapper, and just might be made of polypropylene
Next to nose/mouth layer: Ummm…. I’m on the fence here. Either cotton flannel, OR another layer of the brushed polyester microfiber
Why cotton: Cotton is porous, which makes it more comfortable for breathing. Also, because cotton is positively charged, the negatively charged virus exiting the wearer’s mouth or nose will be attracted to the cotton molecule and not migrate through the mask to the outside where it can infect others. Also, because cotton is absorbent, it will pull the moisture out of the virus, causing it to “die” faster. Note, however, that when cotton gets wet and stays wet, it becomes more abrasive to the skin. This may mean someone with a sweaty face will have to change a cotton-lined mask more often to stay comfortable.
Why flannel: Studies shows that pile fabric structures (e.g., terry cloth) are more
effective at trapping virus. Flannel, while not as thick a pile as terry cloth, may be more practical for facemasks by decreasing bulk and heat-buildup.
Why polyester: Reduce manufacturing time (the re-useable pocket can be one folded structure) and reduce trouble in finding and keeping different materials on hand; also, might be comfortable more for long-term wear for someone with a sweaty face by avoiding the wet abrasion of cotton.
Why dimpled: While not a pile, the stand-off of dimpling increases the distance a virus has to travel to escape the mask and also provides more surface area to trap virus particles; also the stand-off of dimpling increases next-to-skin comfort and breathability by not contiguously touching the skin.
Last suggestions: –
Consider making the outer layer a different color than the inner layer so the wearer doesn’t have to think about which side goes toward the face. Heed the suggstion from one member to choose light colors so that stains are more visible.
Wash cotton before cutting/sewing to preshrink.
I had previoulsy advised to wash your finished facemask before shipping. Members are saying that the hospitals will do this on their end. If you do choose to launder, do NOT use fabric softeners or dryer sheets as they impart a positive charge to fabrics which will be a virus attractant for the outermost surface.

Is that steak from a cow or a steer? Why it matters..

PSA: Trader Joes grass-fed steaks are cow, not steer (but at steer prices (!). Bought one the other night bc we were out of town at friends who only shop there, and discovered this when I put a rather pricey steak onto the outdoor grill where it became obvious it was cow; on the plate ditto.

1) Cow requires a different cooking method. You know how a good steak will sear up tight on the outside with a nice glazed surface and tender on the inside? Where you can gauge the doneness buy pressing on it? Cow doesn’t do this; it remains soft on the outside, never tightens up on the outside, and you cannot press it to determine doneness, it takes forever for the inside to be not-raw. The meat remains completely flexible and never sears up on the outside.

2) Cow tastes very different from steak.

There’s nothing wrong with eating/cooking cow, it just seems to me that as consumers we should a) know we are buying cow so we can use the right cooking method and dish prep for the meat and b) pay cow, i.e., lower and appropriate, prices (not steer/higher prices). TJ’s isn’t the only one doing this; it’s an industry thing to conceal this. It began with those cheaper steak house restaurants in the 1970s; cheap steaks = cow; no one knew except ranchers, and most Americans thought those steak restaurants were awesome. Worse: there is just about no one in the beef industry who will tell you whether they are selling cow or steer (including the Berkeley Bowl) except local ranch butcheries and the mis-named online purveyor Crowd Cow who only sells steer.

This includes Whole Foods. About 10 years ago, I paid bank for a steak at Whole Foods Market, tossed it on the grill for a fancy dinner at home, and the piece of meat was really really not having it, and when i finally got the meat to the table, the taste was not even close to what worked…this ruined the dinner. The “steak” should have been cooked up in a stew and has no business on a grill. Also, I suspect meats on sale have a higher probability of being cow as when i’ve purchased anything on sale, years ago, it was cow. I stopped buying meat from Whole Foods a decade ago because of this and because the people behind their meat counters are not butchers (they can’t prep any meat or chicken correctly to save their own lives).

So FYI y’all. Bummer about TJs joining this–but then I never buy meat there, so I cannot say whether this is a recent development or not. I just know that the are selling cow in their not-cheap grass-fed steaks.

Opinion: Re-elect ‘People’s Mayor’ Spencer in Alameda

Contrary to what’s asserted in a recent anonymous East Bay Times editorial, Alamedans know that:

  • Councilwoman Marilyn Ashcraft voted for the current six-year public safety contract (ending December 2021) along with Councilmen Frank Matarrese and Jim Oddie. That vote passed 3-2, with Councilman Tony Daysog and I opposing.
  • Ashcraft voted for hiring sworn (versus nonsworn) firefighters to do inspections, along with Vice Mayor Malia Vella and Oddie, another 3-2 vote, with Matarrese and I opposing. If the three positions were instead filled with nonsworn firefighters, city staff estimated a $300,000 annual savings. Therefore, the positions could be paid for without dipping into the General Fund and would not have to pay higher pension costs. Other cities use nonsworn firefighters for such inspections.
  • Ashcraft voted for the approximately $945,000 settlement agreement with former City Manager Jill Keimach, which also passed 3-2, with Ashcraft, Matarrese and Oddie supporting and Vella and I opposing.
  • Ashcraft voted for the Modernization Utility Tax (Measure K1 of November 2016), which the Alameda council approved 4-1, with myself opposing. Alameda’s employees’ wages are based on a unique formula referred to as the Balanced Revenue Index (BRI), composed of five revenue sources — including the utility users tax. The utility tax had been a component that was decreasing over time but shifted to a growth component with the passage of this tax, thereby increasing salaries and pension liabilities.
  • Ashcraft voted for the proposed 0.5 percent sales tax with no expiration date (the city’s Measure F this Nov. 6), raising Alameda’s sales tax to 9.75 percent, higher than Oakland and San Francisco, along with all the other council members except myself, a 4-1 vote. It is noteworthy that Alameda council candidates Chen, Daysog, Knox White and Matz also oppose Measure F, agreeing with me.

Alameda’s current General Fund five-year forecast projects a budget deficit by fiscal year 2019-20, increasing to a $4.7 million dollar deficit by fiscal year 2021-22. As Kevin Kennedy, our city’s treasurer, and Kevin Kearney, our city auditor, recently stated, “City staff say there is a $300 million backlog of work that needs to be done to keep our storm drains from polluting the bay; keep our water, parks and buildings safe; and maintain our streets and sidewalks.

“… Also, retiree medical benefits for city employees are underfunded by more than $100 million and continue to grow at a rate faster than the city’s revenues come in. And pension plans for city employees are underfunded by more than $200 million, resulting in pension payments consuming millions of dollars more of the city’s revenue every year for the next decade and beyond. … This is not sound fiscal management.

“The structural problems in the budget must be addressed. Not facing these issues head-on just kicks the can down the road, and asking for citizens to pay more for basic services or pass tax measures is merely a Band-Aid, not a substantial long-term fix. … You should expect better and demand that elected leaders operate in a fiduciary capacity to protect our interests and do all they can to fulfill their responsibility as fiduciaries.”

I agree with our treasurer and auditor that Alameda’s current fiscal direction, “is not sound fiscal management” and “the structural problems in the budget must be addressed,” and my votes reflect that. As shown above, I am regularly outvoted by the majority of City Council on financial issues. However, Ashcraft is regularly, if not always, in the council majority on financial decisions. Thus the anonymous editorial’s claim that a vote for Ashcraft is one for “meaningful change” is not supported by the facts (e.g. her past votes).

The anonymous editorial also criticizes me for not doing more as mayor and then argues against a strong-mayor system. The demand that I do more under our current system would violate our city charter. Thankfully, Alamedans will analyze the facts rather than relying upon baseless rhetoric.

As your mayor, I promise to continue to always vote for Alamedans’ best long-term interests, including fiscal ones. I am a dedicated, compassionate, hands-on leader who appreciates your input. Together we are leading Alameda to new opportunities. I am asking for your vote and continued support as your mayor. Let’s do it again! Contact our campaign at, 510-863-4496 or #ThePeoplesMayorTrish.

Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer is running for re-election Nov. 6.

Note to City Council: You’re not cool.

Note to City Council Members:
Contemporary municipal contracts with bicycle-sharing companies typically require those companies be accountable and share revenue. It’s a thing.
SOS (Save Our Streets) Pledge:
1) Daily Pickup for bicycles and scooters (after dark)
2) Responsible Growth (matching vehicle stock with usage, i.e., not overstocking)
3) Revenue Sharing (with city to help pay for new bike paths; makes sense, bc they are making money using our streets and sidewalks, right?).
We may think it’s cool to get bicycle- and scooter-sharing, and we may think it’s cool to get vehicle-sharing (with no revenue sharing for parked cars on our streets), but the way our city council members are doing it is #NotCool.
The Mayor gets it. But she cannot lead the city when the 4 other votes don’t know what they are doing.
All to be remembered in November.


Neighbors have cats. Several outdoor cats. Neighbors do not a) provide an outdoor sandbox or desirable place for cats to ‘go’ and b) don’t bring their cats in at night, even when temps dip below freezing.


1) Our beautiful landscaped yard and outdoor dining area reeks of cat urine and feces. My husband removes a quart of feces a week from the soil. Sitting in the yard and having outdoor meals during this beautiful/warm summer is made unpleasant by the stench. Gardening has become a stinky land-mine event.

2) The cats overnight on our porches.The cats sleep in the daytime under our plants in the yard. My husband is highly allergic to cats so having them sleep on our doormats poses a significant health risk to him.

I’ve asked the neighbors to provide an outdoor sandbox for their cats in their yard and to bring their cats in at night, and explained why.

How did that work for us? Complete disinterest in the negative impact they create in general on their neighbors by having outdoor cats and complete disregard personally to us (literally 10 feet way [how far our homes are apart]), i.e., zero attempts to address the problems.

This morning, I see this article about “catios”. LIGHTBULB.  What a great idea:


Wow. A simple and great solution to protect both cats and neighbors!  Cat owners CAN be responsible, just like dog owners are expected and required to be. They can contain their cats, allow them outdoors and prevent the substantive and negative externalities on neighbors!  Another upside is outdoor cats would no longer decimate the bird population.

Please gawd let Catios become a trend in Alameda.

Why is it, anyway, that owning a cat doesn’t come with expectations and requirements to be responsible for the cat? Why is it different than owning a dog or a bird?

I’m tolerant (up to the point where people are taking advantage) and I’m an animal lover. I’ve even trained one of the neighbor’s cats, who is particularly lonely [needy for attention] and who we’ve found snuck into our home on more than one occasion, to sit-stay on the porch at the doorway and not enter our house when our door is open on warm days when we are coming/going to the yard.  But no matter which type of domesticated animal we choose to have in our homes, our responsibilities should be the same: to meet the animals’ needs and care in a manner that also does not have an egregiously negative impact others.

Point traffic figures flawed

Guest Opinion: Eugenie Thomson
In his June 11 commentary in the Alameda Sun, John Knox White, a city Planning Board member, attempts to defend that the analysis for the environmental impact report for Alameda Point’s 1,425 homes and 9,000 jobs will result in net-one-car-off-Island during the morning commute.
Alameda Point

His long-overdue admission that the report did rely on one net car off-Island during the morning commute is followed by a preposterous attempt to explain why concluding that a massive project like Alameda Point would produce only “one (additional) car off the island” and “isn’t as crazy as it sounds.” His belief is that Alameda residents who leave the Island will no longer do so because they will instead go to the new jobs created at Alameda Point.

It is every bit as crazy as it sounds.

“One-net-car” is the canary in the coal mine, but there is much more wrong with this environmental impact report. Its calculations are based on assumptions that are pure fantasy. And using them produced these erroneous results. The most surprising of all was the report concludes there will be no congestion at the West End now or after all is built. That’s right, vitally important and totally unbelievable.

To wit: The environmental impact report’s traffic analysis assumed a total of 5,400 new homes on the Island, including 1,200 new homes at Alameda Point, and 20,000 new jobs citywide, including 8,000 new jobs at Alameda Point.

To believe Alameda will generate 20,000 new jobs over the next 20 years, one must put blind faith in a whopping 66 percent increase in jobs, from 30,000 today to 50,000 in 2035. That kind of job growth just isn’t going to happen! An increase of 8,000 citywide over the next 20 years is unrealistic for an Island city like Alameda. But an increase of 20,000 more jobs is delusional.

This high job assumption skewed the calculations significantly and reduced the estimated traffic leaving the Island from both the Alameda Point project and the 4,200 other homes planned outside the Point. These errors were compounded by a non-professional like White to take it one step further. He adds his layman’s opinion to back into the report’s conclusions of one net car off-Island due to Alameda Point project during the morning commute and no change in traffic delay at the West End now or after all is built.

The people of Alameda are not anti-development, and neither am I. We just want development to be reasonable, well-considered, and based in reality. The Alameda Point environmental impact report’s citywide traffic results including White’s commentary are not reality-based; they are a trip down the rabbit hole.

Yes, the homes will be built. There is high demand for housing. Site A, the first project at Alameda Point, is primarily housing, with 800 units. And it is possible 5,400 homes can be built citywide as staff claims. The new zoning approved by the previous City Council allows for it.

We want to say yes to developers, too, but only when realistic data such as realistic commercial and housing development goals have been obtained and only if it will lead to good planning, reliable engineering, and fiscal neutrality (i.e. the base infrastructure not costing taxpayers in general).

Where Alameda Point and all the other projects are concerned, the people just want to know: How bad will the traffic be? How long it will take to get off the Island? Instead of the simple truth, we’re getting ridiculous claims of 8,000 jobs on the base and 20,000 citywide jobs, and city zoning allowing 5,400 more homes – ignoring the voice of the people when they voted down the SunCal plan.

Alamedans are being asked to believe the projection of zero morning outbound traffic at the Island gateways due to the Alameda Point project; no traffic congestion at the West End, now or after all is built; and the vast majority of us living encapsulated lives where we never leave the Island.

It is not just crazy, it is insulting.

I urge Alamedans to speak up. The council must carefully scrutinize staff reports to ensure the veracity and reasonableness of all information they contain. Doing less may result in far worse repercussions.

This environmental impact report’s citywide traffic study is flawed and should not be reused repeatedly to approve rezoning and new housing applications, as it has been.

Eugenie P. Thomson

Eugenie P. Thomson, P.E., is a retired licensed civil and traffic engineer and a longtime resident of Alameda and has volunteered on community projects.