Archive for the ‘Bay Area’ Category

BAY AREA: Joey Travolta’s film camps for special needs students create videos for positive message campaign

Tuesday, July 19th, 2022

Two students from Class 1 of Joey Travolta’s Vallejo Film Camp hosted by Touro University of California pitch their idea to him (center in grey shirt) and teacher Roger Welch while their classmates look on and a crew from Travolta’s Inclusion Films, including cameraman Danny Sarokin (left), shoot the proceedings on Thursday, July 14, 2022. Photos by Allen D. Payton

Each class develops theme, pitches Travolta then creates a film for use by Pass It On of The Foundation for a Better Life

By Allen D. Payton

Director, actor and former special education teacher, Joey Travolta held his third of three film camps in Northern California, last week, for students between 18 and 24 years old with an intellectual disability, to create short videos for use by for their positive message campaign in theaters, as well as on TV and billboards.

Each film will be five to seven minutes long and “every story has to have the theme of kindness or doing something good, and the thought is don’t hesitate to pass it on,” Travolta explained.

According to his Inclusion Films’ website, “over the two-week session, campers work together in small groups to develop a script, act, and shoot their film with professional support and equipment. The program encourages communication, confidence, and collaboration through acting and digital filmmaking. Stay tuned for future dates & announcements.”

Joey Travolta questions the students from Class 1 pitching their film idea as teacher Roger Welch and the other students look on and cameraman Danny Sarokin shoots the scene.

Travolta and a crew from his Inclusion Films, which includes neuro diverse adults from his brick-and-mortar school in Bakersfield, were also in Antioch last year filming a brief documentary entitled “Music Heals” for the biennial Stand Down on the Delta for military veterans planned for last fall. But due to COVID, that event didn’t occur, so the film was shown during the Music Heals Concert at El Campanil Theatre earlier this month. (See related articles here, here and here

Travolta and staff are holding the latest camp last week and this week on Mare Island in Vallejo, inside the campus of Touro University of California, following camps with the same theme in Livermore, with partners Futures Explored, in Stockton with the Lodi School District and the first one in Arkansas at the end of April.

The Vallejo camp was supported by the Solano County Office of Education (SCOE) and Susan Labrecque, SCOE Senior Director, Kesha Lovett, SCOE Program Manager for Workforce Development and the entire staff from SCOE Workforce Development Department were on hand to assist the students and watch the process.

“All participants are clients of North Bay Regional Center services which is how the camp is funded, along with the Solano County Office of Education to provide youth with skills that transition into the world of work,” Labrecque explained.

The camp was divided into three groups of students and the classes were each led by a separate teacher. On Thursday, July 14, the students presented their film concepts to Travolta, with two of the classmates chosen to make the pitch.

Class 1 film pitch.

Class 1 Pitch

The first class was led by Roger Welch who’s been teaching at the camps since 2018.

“I’m a family friend and real close with Joey’s sister, Ellen,” he said. “I ran a theater company in Idaho, and she lived in the town and acted in several shows. I got to know the whole family.”

Asked how he connected with the camp Welch said, “when I left that job and was in New York at a dinner with Ellen, Joey, who I’ve known for years, and his wife Wendy, he asked me what I was doing that summer and said, ‘come work for me’ so, I did.”

“I’ve been doing professional theater and film all my life and I’m a teaching artist,” he continued. “I’ve never worked with a neuro diverse population before. But I’ve just worked with them like any other students, using improv as a teaching tool. I’ve found it very challenging but very rewarding.”

“When I’m not doing this, I’m a freelance director for theater all over the country and the director and choreographer of entertainment for the American Queen Voyages,” which is a fleet of river boats on the Mississippi and Columbia Rivers and Great Lakes.

After approval by Travolta of their film concept, students from Class 1 celebrate and congratulate each other.

Two students were chosen to pitch the film concept from their class.

“I’ve only rejected one story. So, good luck,” Travolta said to laughter from the students. He later said that was true and it was because the film’s theme was too depressing.

The first pitch was a sci fi film about friendship and involved a spaceship.

Travolta asked how much it was going to cost him.

The students suggested it could become a series.

“Have you cast this, already?” Travolta asked.

“No,” Welch said.

One of the female students then offered to be an actress in the film. Another student, Sean volunteered to be an actor for it, too.

“I don’t have any say in that,” Travolta responded.

“I don’t like it. I love it!” he then said to cheers and applause from the class.

Class 2 Student Jaylon speaks with teacher Barry Pearl before he and classmate Daniel prepare to pitch to Travolta, as they await his arrival.

Class 2 Pitch

The second class was taught by actor Barry Pearl, who portrayed the part of Doody in the movie “Grease” in which Joey’s younger brother John had the lead role playing opposite Olivia Newton John.

“It’s an amazing program,” Pearl said. “I’ve been with it for nine years.”

The Inclusion Films crew, which includes adult students Travolta’s school in Bakersfield, prepares to shoot the pitch by Class 2.

Two students in his class pitched their film ideas to him and Travolta.

“This is my third year of camp but my first pitch,” said student Jaylon. His pitch partner, Daniel said this is his third pitch.

“I hope Joey approves” he said to Barry.

Travolta then entered the room asking the students which way he should go to get to his chair.

“I’m really excited about this pitch. The first one went well,” Travolta said after he was seated.

Travolta speaks with the students from Class 2 about the film they’re pitching him and Pearl.

“The name of our film is called ‘The Kindness of the Heart’ about two students who don’t have enough money for lunch,” Daniel explained.

“Two other students raise money to help,” Jaylon shared.

Travolta asked where the film would take place. They said it will be in a school in the cafeteria and outside.

Travolta then asked a female student he named “Princess Sophia”, her thoughts.

“I think this is good, Joey Travolta,” she said.

“If Princess Sophia says it’s good, then you’re approved,” he stated to cheers from the two who pitched and the other students from the class who were sitting and watching the pitch.

Class 3 Pitch

The third class was facilitated by Jessica Saul, a teacher with Inclusion Films. Her background is in neurodiverse theater with a company based in New York and she’s working to bring them to California.

She lives in LA and works with the camps. It’s been a wonderful experience because it brings together my two passions of performing and teaching.

“I connected with Joey through an organization called RespectAbility and he was looking for another teacher and here we are,” Saul said.

The film crew and class prepared for the pitch and Travolta’s arrival.

Students Brian and Cassidy from Class 3 pitch their film concept to Travolta and teacher Jessica Saul.

When he entered the room to applause from the students, Travolta walked toward them asking “how ya doing?” He then said, “I have a question before we start” then like a big kid, turned around and asked, “does my butt make these pants look big?” to laughter from the class.

“No answer from me,” replied one student.

The two students to give the pitch, Brian and Cassidy, placed leis around Travolta’s neck saying, “Aloha”.

“The title of this film is called ‘The Competition’,” they said.

“I like that,” Travolta responded, “What kind of competition?”

“It’s in Hawaii. It’s a talent competition,” Brian explained. “Elvis needs to win the competition so he can afford to go to the Berklee School of Music.”

Each story from the classes has an antagonist.

“Mark and Charlie plan to sabotage Elvis and steal his guitar,” said Brian.

“You’re scaring me,” Travolta said.

“You’re not giving me the end, now, right? Travolta asked.

“No,” they responded, then continued explaining the storyline.

Travolta listens to a joke by one of the students in Class 3 who used a special computer to speak for him as the Inclusion Films crew shoots and his classmates listen.

“I gotta tell you, you guys have me on the edge of my seat. That’s because I have a bad back,” Travolta joked.

The students continued with their pitch.

He then asked, “Are you going to use a green screen?”

Cassidy said, “Brian is going to play Elvis.”

“What are you going to do for Hawaii?” Travolta asked.

Saul pointed to the trees outside saying, “they were inspired by the outside.”

Travolta asked, “who’s going to play Elvis?”

“Thank you very much,” Brian responded giving an elvis impression.

He then asked if Travolta wanted to hear him sing Burnin’ Love.

“I’d like that,” Travolta responded. But before he had Brian start, he asked another student to call “action”.

Brian then sang part of the song to cheers from the class, Travolta and Saul.

Travolta responded by singing, “You’re nothing but a hound dog” to laughter from the students.

“I like this a lot,” he said. “You’re utilizing the area, which is very, very practical.”

“So, I have to approve this,” Travolta stated.

As Saul led the sound of a drumroll with hands on thighs, Travolta turned and asked one of the other students for his opinion of the film idea. The student gave a loud approval.

“OK, guys, you’re approved!” Travolta exclaimed to cheers and high fives from the students.

Brian had to then chase down Travolta, who had left the class, to get the back leis which were needed as props for the film.

See video of Class 3 film pitch and approval: Joey Travolta Vallejo Film Camp Class 3 Pitch 07142022 – YouTube

Inclusion Films Crew

The film crew for the day consisted of staff of Inclusion Films some of whom were previous students in Travolta’s classes.

“I had experience in the music industry,” crew member Mobley said. “So, I stepped up and I’ve been doing sound ever since.”

Crew member Brandon said he’s a student at Inclusion Films in Bakersfield. “I’m part of the upper class,” he added.

“Often times the students get positions in the film industry, including films with John,” Pearl said.

Danny Sarokin, Travolta’s lifelong friend, and NYU film school graduate, was a cameraman at the school.

“I grew up with Joey in New Jersey,” he shared. “We were on the wrestling team. I was a freshman, and he was a senior and he kind of took me under his wing. He’s been mentoring me ever since.”

“In the mid-90’s I co-wrote a children’s film called ‘Everyone Loves Mel’ that starred Ernest Borgnine. Joey directed it and was involved in the producing of it,” said Sarokin.

“I was a camera operator on Carol of the Bells and that was a great experience,” he continued, referring to Inclusion Films’ first full-length movie. “In 2018 Joey brought me back and I’ve been working at the summer camps, as a camera man. We get to mentor the kids, and we get to pass it on.”

Sarokin works for Travolta’s school in Bakersfield, teaching screen writing by Zoom as he lives in L.A. He also filled in as an editing teacher.

“We’ve actually filmed the first script that we wrote in the class just recently,” Sarokin shared. “That one is 30 to 40 minutes long. They cut it down to 25 minutes and show it on cable. It’s called Lost Luggage.”

According to the film’s logline which provides the plot, it’s about two African American sisters who find their grandma’s diary in a hidden suitcase in the basement. Upon reading, they learn about her teen romance with a white classmate in a racially charge environment. The sisters try to reunite with this lost love.

According to a Dec. 10, 2021 report by it was filmed at McNair High School in Lodi, California last October and was created with Lodi Unified students.

“Now, they’re in preproduction on the second script we wrote in the school,” Sarokin added.

Travolta Shares About the Camps and His Organization

Travolta takes a moment for a photo with the Herald’s Administrative Assistant (and the publisher’s mother) DeeAnn Payton at the Vallejo film camp.

Following the three class pitches, Travolta took some time to answer questions, mostly asked by the Herald’s administrative assistant, DeeAnn Payton, who was also at the camp and saw the pitches of all three classes.

“Now, they actually make their films on site,” he said. “Each class will show the rough cut of their film at the camp this Friday.”

“Some of these films will be on the Pass It On website,” Travolta continued. “Then we have the big, red-carpet screening. The kids dress up in tuxedos, have limousines and they get little Academy Awards.”

That’s being planned for some time, this fall.

“The camps are for the younger ones and the location in Bakersfield is for adults,” Travolta explained. “We do the training year-round and do movies like Carol of the Bells.”

“They learn soft skills like communication,” he added.

Asked how decided to start the film school and camps, Travolta said, “I was a special ed teacher in 1973 before I got into show business. I’ve been doing this since 2006.”

He also hosts workshops for adults in San Jose, San Diego and San Bernardino with partners Options For All and in Livermore, Sacramento and Stockton with Futures Explored, as well.

“We’re getting a lot of work from the state and regional centers and every time we do a job half the crew is made up of students trained at the various workshops,” Travolta said.

They have seven brick-and-mortar studios in California each one 5,000 to 8,000 square feet in size, that operate year-round with professionals teaching.

“They’re all funded through the Regional Centers,” he said.

“Then once the students have honed their skills, they get work with one of the three production companies” – Futures, Options and Inclusion – Travolta shared.

“It’s a gift for us to work with this population and we probably get more out of it than the kids, and they get a lot out of it,” he added. “I wish I was 20 years younger.”

Travolta has lived in San Francisco since last year when he and Wendy moved up from L.A. to help take care of their grandson who is two years old.

This Friday, the students will present the rough cut of their films to Joey.

Host Touro University of California

Asked how Touro University of California’s campus was selected to host the camp, Provost Sarah Sweitzer, PhD said, “Our connection is actually through SCOE who approached us to host this fantastic camp for our young people with disabilities in Solano County. This is our first summer.”

“Our mission is to serve, lead and teach and our function is to serve as an anchor institution in the North Bay counties,” she continued. “It’s at the heart of our mission to create equity in health and education to close the opportunity gaps, especially for our underserved communities.

“We’re a graduate school for healthcare, education and public health – the heart of the pandemic,” Sweitzer stated.

According to their website Touro is America’s largest private institution of higher and professional education under Jewish auspices with over 19,000 students across 35 schools in four countries and first opened in 1971.

The California campus is a graduate school with about 1,300 students. They’re renovating building number eight and they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary, Sweitzer added.

One of the many positive PassItOn messages.

About Pass It On

According to, for 21 years, the Pass It On campaign promoting positive values has provided uplifting and encouraging messages. It is a project of The Foundation for a Better Life, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

DeeAnn Payton contributed to this report.

Hundreds plan to rally in S.F. Thursday to stop CPUC’s latest solar tax proposal

Tuesday, May 31st, 2022

“Don’t Tax the Sun” event is part of the largest ever submission of live and video-recorded public comments in CPUC history

Organizers claim tax will boost utility profits at the expense of clean energy needs 

San Francisco—Hundreds of solar workers, consumers, clean energy advocates, community leaders, conservationists, and climate activists will join together at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) headquarters building in San Francisco on Thursday to protest the CPUC’s latest proposal to tax rooftop solar and drastically reduce the credits consumers receive for selling their solar energy back to the grid.

After a brief rally, solar supporters will line up to give public comments during the CPUC meeting. In Los Angeles, another thousand solar supporters will record their video testimonials to submit to the CPUC. Combined, Thursday’s actions are expected to be the largest ever submission of live and video-recorded public comments in CPUC history.

  • WHAT: 500+ ‘Don’t Tax the Sun’ rally and largest ever CPUC public comment submission
  • WHEN: Thursday, June 2 at 11:00am PDT
  • WHERE: CPUC headquarters at 505 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco where the CPUC will be opening its doors to in-person public comment.
  • WHO:  Large and diverse coalition of solar supporters.
  • VISUALS: Rally and more than 500 solar supporters lined-up to give public comments wearing bright red ‘Don’t Tax the Sun’ tee-shirts with signs and banners.

The CPUC is currently considering changes to “net energy metering,” the state policy that makes rooftop solar more affordable for consumers of all types by compensating them for the excess energy they produce and share with their neighbors. Currently 1.5 million consumers use net metering, including thousands of public schools, churches and affordable housing developments, and it is the main driver of California’s world-renowned rooftop solar market. As a result of net metering, working and middle class neighborhoods are just under half of the rooftop solar market and the fastest growing segment today.

Big utilities want to change the rules in their favor in order to eliminate a growing competitor, keep consumers stuck in utility monopolies, and maintain the need for costly and often dangerous transmission lines that are a key driver of utility profits and ratepayer costs.

Despite the overwhelming popularity of rooftop solar and net metering in California, the CPUC is considering a proposed decision, favored by investor-owned utilities, to implement a monthly solar penalty tax while also slashing credits consumers receive for their excess solar energy.

The CPUC had previously proposed a similar steep tax on rooftop solar and an immediate gutting of the credits of solar consumers. The unpopular proposed decision was shelved for an indefinite amount of time earlier this year after intense backlash and public disapproval from Governor Newsom. The CPUC’s recent ruling to re-open its net energy metering procedures seems again to be pursuing a tax, this time hidden and under a different name.

By contrast, solar supporters want to keep solar growing and affordable for all types of consumers, ensure California remains on track with its clean energy and land conservation goals, and accelerate the growth of solar plus storage to build a more resilient electric grid.

About Save California Solar

Save California Solar is a coalition formed to help ensure that rooftop solar continues to grow and benefit every Californian. Save CA Solar includes more than 600 diverse organizations and helped generate 150,000+ public comments submitted in support of net metering ahead of the CPUC proposed decision. Learn more at


MTC affordable housing loan program expands funding options

Wednesday, May 4th, 2022

Photo: MTC

For purchase and preservation

Agency aims to attract more borrowers in more Bay Area communities

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) announced, recently new underwriting guidelines for its four-year-old Bay Area Preservation Pilot loan fund, which is designed to help nonprofit housing developers and community land trusts finance the acquisition and preservation of existing multifamily properties that are affordable for lower- and moderate-income renters and located in areas with high-frequency transit service. Revisions to the $49 million revolving loan fund include a lower leveraging-ratio requirement and the allocation of up to $6 million for designation as forgivable long-term debt.

The goal of the new underwriting rules is to attract more borrowers by funding loans more quickly for a more diverse set of properties in a more diverse set of Bay Area communities. All loans funded through the Preservation Pilot to date have been used to finance the borrowers’ purchase of rental properties in Oakland. MTC last year approved policy revisions for the Bay Area Preservation Pilot designed to make these funds more accessible to buyers of properties throughout the Bay Area, including those in communities that don’t have their own local preservation funds; properties in which tenants face a high risk of displacement or house families with children, seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, people with extremely low-incomes and people with language barriers; and prospective buyers working in close partnership with existing tenants.

Nonprofit developers and joint venture partnerships can tap the Preservation Pilot fund for loans with terms as long as 10 years to buy nonsubsidized apartment buildings with at least four units. Rents for at least 75 percent of the units must be considered affordable for households whose annual income is no more than 80 percent of the area median. Borrowers also can use the loan proceeds to fund an operating reserve for the acquired property, and to perform life safety upgrades and other rehabilitation work.

MTC established the Bay Area Preservation Pilot in 2018 with a $10 million commitment supplemented by an additional $39 million from program managers Enterprise Community Loan Fund (ECLF) and Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF). Loans are originated on a first-come, first-served basis. Prospective borrowers are encouraged to contact Enterprise and/or LIIF directly to apply. More details on the Bay Area Preservation Pilot fund may be found on the MTC website at

MTC is the regional transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. ECLF has invested more than $2.3 billion and leveraged over $21 billion in additional capital to create or preserve more than 127,000 housing units affordable for lower-income households nationwide. San Francisco-based LIIF has provided over $3 billion of financing and technical assistance and leveraged another $13 billion to provide some 2.4 million lower-income people around the country with stable housing and community services.

Bay Area Bike to Wherever Days in May

Monday, May 2nd, 2022

Bike to Work Day returns May 20 after two-year absence

This month, Bike Month and “Bike to Wherever Days” (BTWD) once again will roll across the nine counties of the Bay Area, and include the return of Bike to Work Day on May 20.

For the first time in two years, many employees are beginning to return to their offices, small businesses are seeing a rise in customers and clients, and bicycles once again are being used for commuting – as well as exercise, recreation, traveling to school, running errands and more.

As a result, BTWD 2022 – the event’s 28th year – will be a celebration throughout the entire month of May and will be highlighted by Bike to Work Day, which was modified the last two years due to the pandemic.

“The return of Bike to Work Day is another indicator that life in the Bay Area is slowly, but surely, getting back to normal,” said Alfredo Pedroza, MTC Chairman and Napa County Supervisor. “What better way to celebrate than by getting outdoors and biking. The May events highlight all the many benefits of bicycling, and we want everyone to participate.”

BTWD brings together the nine Bay Area counties to celebrate bicycling, helps new and experienced riders build community, promotes pedaling as a means of transportation, while benefitting the health of residents and the environment.

During Bike Month, county bike coalitions offer classes, activities, education and more. And while each county celebrates all cyclists within its boundaries, one dedicated rider is chosen as its Bike Champion of the Year. This year’s award winners will be announced in late April.

For those who need a little extra encouragement to ride during May – and after Bike Month is over – riders are encouraged to make a pledge to cycle through their respective county coalitions. Details on how to make that pledge – and to learn more about what’s going on in each county – can be found at

Details about Bike to Wherever Days can also be found online at Follow on Facebook at @biketoworkday, Twitter @BikeToWorkSFBay, and Instagram @biketoworkday_bayarea.

Bay Area Bike to Wherever Days is presented by MTC (the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area), 511 (the region’s traveler information system) and Amazon. BTWD 2022 also receives regional support from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), as well as from many sponsors at the local level. Prizes for the Bike Champion of the Year winners were donated by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Better World Club and Mike’s Bikes.

A’s another step closer to remaining in Oakland with new waterfront stadium

Saturday, February 19th, 2022

A’s waterfront stadium rendering. Source: Oakland A’s

Oakland City Council votes to certify Final EIR

By Oakland Athletics

On Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, the Oakland City Council voted to certify the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for our waterfront ballpark project at Jack London Square. It follows las month’s unanimous vote by the Oakland Planning Commission recommending the council vote to certify the EIR.

This is a significant milestone for the project and comes after years of work with the City, local community members, and organizations to analyze and outline how our project will adhere to the highest of environmental standards. The project will clean up an industrial site with private dollars and return public access to the waterfront with more than 18 acres of public parks and open greenspace.

In addition, the council voted to approve a resolution requiring community benefits including local hire for jobs and to mitigate impacts to nearby neighborhoods, such as parking in Chinatown, and to West Oakland, following complaints by residents who spoke during the meeting from that neighborhood, as well as freight compatibility for the Port of Oakland.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a statement praising the council action in which she said, “Tonight’s action is more than a milestone — it’s a giant leap forward in our shared mission to create a regional destination that gives back our waterfront to the public, connects a new vibrant neighborhood to our downtown, and provides tens of thousands of good union jobs for our residents — and it does it all while keeping our beloved A’s rooted in Oakland.

Now that the Final Environmental Impact Report has been certified, the floor is set for negotiating robust community benefits that our residents demand and deserve, as well as the final development agreement.

Tonight’s action is more than a milestone – it’s a giant leap forward in our shared mission to create a regional destination that gives back our waterfront to the public, connects a new vibrant neighborhood to our downtown, and provides tens of thousands good union jobs for our residents – and it does it all while keeping our beloved A’s rooted in Oakland.”

Oakland A’s waterfront stadium Entitlement Milestones. Source: Oakland A’s

Our waterfront ballpark is a once-in-a-generation project, creating transformative environmental and community benefits for Oakland, and setting the stage for more World Championships for our fans.

We thank our fans, community members, and civic leaders who shared their support during the EIR process and in public meetings. While this is the furthest we have come in securing a new ballpark in Oakland for the Athletics, we have more work to do. We now look forward to finalizing the development agreement and community benefits agreement before a vote later this year.

The city council will still have to approve a development agreement with the team, which is expected to occur sometime this summer, plus the A’s will need to obtain approvals on agreements with the Port, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and State Lands Commission.

To learn more about our waterfront ballpark at Jack London Square and the progress we’ve made to date, visit

Go A’s!

Allen D. Payton contributed to this report.

Contra Costa, 9 other Bay Area and Santa Cruz county health officers to lift most indoor mask mandates for vaccinated Feb. 16

Wednesday, February 9th, 2022

Matching state’s order one day prior; order comes one day after Contra Costa Supervisors appoint new county health officer; statcontinues to require masking in K-12 school settings

In alignment with the State, the Bay Area counties of Contra Costa, Alameda, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, Sonoma, the City of Berkeley, and Santa Cruz County will lift universal mask requirements for vaccinated individuals in most indoor public settings beginning Wednesday, February 16. The change comes one day after Contra Costa Supervisors appointed Dr. Orli Tzvieli as the county’s new health officer. (See related article)

The change aligns with the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) decision to let expire the statewide indoor mask requirement, which was instated on December 15 during the latest COVID-19 surge, in spite of scientific evidence masks don’t work in preventing the spread of the virus. That’s because the size of the COVID molecule is much smaller than the gaps in the fabric of most if not all masks being used. In addition, a 2021 study (that has not yet been peer-reviewed), conducted using data from the CDC covering multiple seasons, reports that “mask mandates and use are not associated with lower SARS-CoV-2 spread among US states.” That study also shows “case growth was not significantly different between mandate and non-mandate states at low or high transmission rates, and surges were equivocal.”

Yet, unvaccinated individuals over age 2 will continue to be required to wear masks in all indoor public settings. Businesses, venue operators and hosts may determine their own paths forward to protect staff and patrons and may choose to require all patrons to wear masks.

Plus, indoor masking is still required by the State for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in public transportation; health care settings; congregate settings like correctional facilities and homeless shelters; long term care facilities; and in K-12 schools and childcare settings.

Bay Area health officers, in alignment with CDPH, continue to strongly recommend masks be used as an effective tool to prevent the spread of the virus especially when case rates are high, or when additional personal protection is needed. Continuing to mask in indoor public settings, especially crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, remains the safest choice for an individual and protects those who are medically vulnerable or are not able to get vaccinated, like our youngest children. As evidence continues to show, vaccinations and boosters remain the best defense against the virus.

The highly contagious Omicron variant brought on a new stage of the pandemic with a high number of new infections, but significantly fewer cases of life-threatening illnesses, especially for those who are vaccinated and boosted. While relaxing indoor masking requirements is part of a population-level shift toward a “new normal” of living with the disease, the Health Officers recognize that essential workers and communities of color continue to be highly impacted by COVID-19 and will need additional support to limit widening health disparities. Changes to health orders and recommendations may be updated as Health Officers follow the science and the data to evaluate whether additional protective measures may be needed as the virus evolves and if future surges occur.

People should continue to choose layered prevention strategies, such as wearing well-fitted masks (N95 or double layer cloth over surgical are best); staying home and testing when symptomatic; testing before gatherings; and improving indoor ventilation in situations where these strategies can add protection for themselves and others. Staying “up to date” on vaccinations, meaning primary series and boosters when eligible, remains the most important way to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

After reaching a high on January 9 of 2,835 new cases per day, Contra Costa’s case rates have rapidly declined to a 7-day average of 958 on February 1 and continue to drop. Meanwhile, hospitalizations, a lagging indicator of disease, have begun to drop and never exceeded local capacity during this latest surge because of the county’s overall high rates of vaccinations (80%) and boosters (49% of those eligible). Contra Costa’s universal mask mandate has been in place since August 2 when cases began climbing from the Delta variant.

A combination of preventative strategies, along with the community’s cooperation helped get the Bay Area through this last surge together as a stronger community.

“We are able to take this next major step of removing the universal indoor mask requirement because we have laid a strong foundation in good public health protections…and know we can reduce severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, health officer for Contra Costa County.

By aligning with the state masking rules, the participating Bay Area counties will not need to meet previously established criteria for lifting local masking orders, which were devised at a different point in the pandemic.

CDPH continues to require masking in K-12 school settings but has indicated adjustments to the state’s policies will be shared in the coming weeks. In the meantime, there is work to be done in closing the remaining gaps in vaccinations and boosters among children with a particular focus on equity gaps within the most highly impacted communities.

For early education programs, such as preschool and childcare settings, CDPH continues to require masking for children older than age two. Vaccinations for children under 5 are currently undergoing federal review. Workplaces will continue to follow the COVID-19 prevention standards set by CalOSHA.

Some people may understandably feel anxious about these changes to masking requirements in the county. People can continue to choose to wear face coverings around others whether it’s mandated or not and should respect people’s choices around their health. Community members who are vaccinated and choose not to mask should respect the choices of those who continue to mask. Officials ask residents and visitors to be kind and respectful as people evaluate their risks and make choices to protect themselves and those around them.


Allen D. Payton contributed to this report.


Violation penalties lowered on 7 Bay Area toll bridges

Thursday, January 6th, 2022

San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge East Span. Photo: MTC

Retroactive to Jan. 1: Cost for Initial Notice Drops to $5 from $25; Second Notice to $15 from $70; affects all but Golden Gate

The Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) today announced a sharp reduction in the penalties associated with toll violation notices sent by the FasTrak® customer service center to customers with unpaid invoices for toll bridge crossings.

Effective immediately — and retroactive to all violation notices since Jan. 1 of this year for outstanding tolls at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay, Antioch, Benicia-Martinez, Richmond-San Rafael, Carquinez, Dumbarton and San Mateo-Hayward bridges — the penalty for first violation notices drops to $5 from the previous $25 and the penalty for second violation notices falls to $15 from the previous $70.

Bridge customers who paid toll violation penalties earlier this year will receive a refund for the difference between the amount(s) they paid and the amount(s) due under the new policy. Distribution of these refunds is expected to begin in February 2022 and continue over the next several months, after which a claim process will be posted at for customers who believe they are owed a refund and did not receive one.

The new policy toward violation penalties was approved by BATA at its October 2021 meeting and marks the first policy change adopted as part of its Bay Area tolling equity action plan unveiled in May 2021. BATA at its November 2021 meeting approved several additional policy changes slated to become effective in the spring of 2022. These include dropping the cost of the FasTrak toll tag deposit for new customers who choose not to link their account to a credit card to $5 from the previous $20; crediting $15 to the prepaid toll accounts of existing customers who paid a $20 tag deposit; reducing the minimum opening balance for a FasTrak account for customers who pay with cash or check to $25 from the previous $50; and eliminating transaction fees for customers who replenish FasTrak accounts or pay violation penalties at a cash network location. BATA and the FasTrak customer service center in the coming months are expected to implement additional recommendations designed to make enrollment in the FasTrak electronic toll payment system more convenient, accessible and affordable. The toll payment system is fully automated for FasTrak customers, with the cost of each crossing automatically deducted from their accounts, allowing them to avoid invoices, violation notices and penalties altogether.

FasTrak customers already account for about three-quarters of all crossings at the Bay Area’s state-owned toll bridges. BATA encourages customers who do not already have FasTrak to open accounts online at or by phone at 1-877-229-8655 (BAY-TOLL). Customers also may obtain FasTrak tags at select Costco and Walgreens stores. A map of retail locations at which FasTrak tags are available may be found at Tags purchased at Costco or Walgreens must be registered online. Drivers who would rather replenish their FasTrak accounts with cash can do so at more than 100 Cash Payment Network locations, now including Walmart stores. A map of these locations may be found at

Drivers also may open a License Plate Account, which is a pay-as-you-go option that links a license plate to an account and charges that account whenever the vehicle crosses a toll bridge; or make a one-time payment, which allows the customer to pay a toll online up to 30 days in advance of a bridge crossing or within 48 hours afterwards. There are no fees for either of these services. More information about License Plate Accounts and one-time payments is available at

Customers who do not have FasTrak or a License Plate Account — and who do not use the online one-time payment option — are required to return invoices with payment within 21 days. Customers who neglect to return payment by the due date on the invoice will receive a “Notice of Toll Evasion” with a $5 penalty for each toll crossing. Customers who do not return payment by the due date on the “Notice of Toll Evasion” will receive a “Second Notice of Delinquent Toll Evasion” with a violation penalty of $15 per crossing. Customers who do not return payment after a second notice may have a hold put on their vehicle registration by the DMV or have the amount owed referred to a collection agency.

BATA administers all toll revenues from the region’s seven state-owned toll bridges.


Tolls on seven Bay Area bridges increased by $1 on New Year’s day fund $4.45 billion of transportation projects

Tuesday, January 4th, 2022

The John A. Nejedly Bridge in Antioch. Source: BATA

Second of three voter-approved increases, this one to $7; funds held in escrow pending State Supreme Court decision

Bay Bridge Toll Plaza from MTC website. By Noah-Berger

By Bay Area Toll Authority

With the new year, the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) reminds drivers that tolls at the region’s seven state-owned toll bridges increased by $1 on Jan. 1, 2022. This is the second of the three $1 toll increases approved by the Legislature in 2017 through state Senate Bill 595 and by voters through Regional Measure 3 in June 2018. The first of these toll hikes went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019. The last of the Regional Measure 3 toll increases will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2025.

Regular tolls for two-axle cars and trucks (as well as for motorcycles) at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay, Antioch, Benicia-Martinez, Carquinez, Dumbarton, Richmond-San Rafael and San Mateo-Hayward bridges rose to $7 from the current $6 on Jan. 1, 2022.

Tolls for vehicles with three or more axles also rose by $1 on Jan. 1, 2022, at all seven of the state-owned toll bridges: to $17 for three axles, $22 for four-axles, $27 for five axles, $32 for six axles, and $37 for combinations with seven or more axles.

Senate Bill 595 and Regional Measure 3 continue the peak-period toll discount for motorcycles, carpools and qualifying clean-air vehicles crossing any of the state-owned toll bridges on weekdays from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The discounted toll increased to $3.50 on Jan. 1, 2022, from the previous $3. To qualify for this discount, carpoolers, motorcyclists and drivers of qualifying clean-air vehicles must use FasTrak® to pay their tolls electronically and must use a designated carpool lane at each toll plaza.

Senate Bill 595 and Regional Measure 3 also established a 50-cent toll discount for two-axle vehicles crossing more than one of the state-owned toll bridges during weekday commute hours of 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. To be eligible for the toll discount, which is to be applied to the second toll crossing of the day, motorists must pay their tolls electronically with FasTrak®. Carpools, motorcycles and qualifying clean-air vehicles making a second peak-period toll crossing in a single day will qualify for an additional 25-cent discount off the already-discounted carpool toll.

Funding for Transportation Projects

The funds collected from the additional toll will fund a $4.45 billion list of transportation improvement projects throughout the nine-county Bay Area, which includes $470 million in Contra Costa County.

Source: MTC

Source: MTC

New FasTrak® customers can obtain toll tags at hundreds of Walgreens and Costco stores around the Bay Area. A complete list of participating locations — as well as an online enrollment and registration feature — is available on the FasTrak® Web site at Customers also may enroll in the FasTrak® program by phone at 1-877-229-8655; by calling 511 and asking for “FasTrak” at the first prompt; or in person at the FasTrak® customer service center at 375 Beale Street in San Francisco. Phone service is available Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The walk-in customer service center is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. FasTrak® can be used in all lanes at all Bay Area toll plazas.

Because a legal challenge to Senate Bill 595 and Regional Measure 3 remains pending before the California Supreme Court, the January 1, 2022 toll increase, as collected, is placed into an escrow account managed by an independent trustee. Revenue from the 2019 toll increase also is being held in escrow. If BATA prevails in the litigation, the funds will be applied to BATA-approved programs.

Major projects in the Regional Measure 3 expenditure plan include improvements to State Route 37 in the North Bay, freeway interchange improvements in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties, the purchase of more new BART cars, extension of the BART system from Berryessa to downtown San Jose and Santa Clara, extension of the Caltrain corridor to the Salesforce Transit Center in downtown San Francisco, expansion of Muni’s transit vehicle fleet, expansion of San Francisco Bay Ferry service and more frequent transbay bus service, a direct freeway connector from northbound U.S. 101 in Marin County to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, upgrades to the Dumbarton Bridge corridor, and extension of the SMART rail system to Windsor and Healdsburg in Sonoma County.

BATA, which is directed by the same policy board as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), administers toll revenues from the Bay Area’s seven state-owned toll bridges. Toll revenues from the Golden Gate Bridge are administered by the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, which joined with BATA to operate a single regional FasTrak® customer service center in San Francisco. MTC is the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.