Ellen Kamei

Catherine Crystal Foster, Ellen Kamei, pictured, and Maria Marroquin participate in a Los Altos Comunity Foundation “Community Conversation” last week.


There are visible and not-so-visible sides to Silicon Valley. The visible side is all about high-tech success breeding an ever-increasing population of multimillionaires and billionaires. The less visible side includes those without access to tech success who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

“The pandemic exacerbated the inequities that were already existing in Silicon Valley,” said Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei.

Kamei served on a panel of local experts participating in a “Community Conversation” webinar titled “What Does a K-Shaped Recovery Mean for Our Community?” – a May 25 event sponsored by Los Altos Community Foundation. Moderated by LACF executive director Adin Miller, the event also featured insights from Catherine Crystal Foster, CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit Magnify Community, and Maria Marroquin, executive director of the Day Worker Center of Mountain View.

“In a K-shaped recovery, what you’re seeing is a divergence – the economy overall improves, but the parts of the economy that are improving are not necessarily uniform for everybody,” Miller said in framing the discussion. “You actually end up seeing inequity accelerating due to the pandemic, and then you see recovery affecting two different ways – you see an uptick in one arm and you see a downtick in the other arm.”

Those on the uptick, Miller noted, include homeowners, college graduates and men; those impacted by the downtick include renters, hospitality and retail business workers, noncollege graduates and women.

“Members of our community that faced hard and difficult circumstances before the pandemic – those situations haven’t disappeared for them,” Miller said, pointing to the area’s high cost of living and lack of affordable housing.

“One of the problems of this K-shape is that folks, maybe at that top branch, don’t necessarily even know that they’re at a top branch and there is this lower downward-trending one,” said Foster, whose Magnify Community focuses on empowering “high capacity” philanthropists to give locally.

Foster offered some sobering statistics: In Santa Clara County, 28,000 households are behind on rent, and the low-income tenants owe $58 million in back rent. The current housing eviction moratorium established under the pandemic expires next month. She reported that food banks such as Second Harvest are serving 500,000 people a month, double the number before the pandemic. Furthermore, Foster said the poor are burdened by “vaccine inequity, COVID disparities” – Latinos in the county account for 25% of the population but 50% of the COVID cases.

When she started her nonprofit three years ago, Foster said there were 76,000 millionaires and billionaires in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties – today, there are 148,000.

“So there is a huge opportunity there for philanthropy,” Foster said.

The wealth is growing – but not necessarily the giving.

“For the most part, folks are not rushing to give it all away,” she said, nor are they giving in proportion to their increase in wealth.

Pooling resources

Kamei observed a reliance on local government at the height of the pandemic last year, and highlighted the fact that cities, counties and the state are collaborating well and “trying to be flexible, especially for those on the frontline.”

She pointed to offering drop-in COVID testing, followed by drop-in vaccines. In addition, Kamei noted the city of Mountain View improved its communications, offering translations in four languages and “meeting people where they are.”

Last year, Mountain View worked with LACF to raise funds to help struggling small businesses and provide rent relief.

Marroquin took note of the heavy impact COVID has had on the local Latino community, comprising the lion’s share of dayworkers. She said many dayworkers she comes in contact with are struggling financially, and their lack of access to technology and remote learning is additionally burdensome. However, she said the surrounding community stepped up and the Day Worker Center raised nearly $300,000 for distribution to the workers.

“And that is remarkable,” Marroquin said.

Miller asked the panel what will happen with the expiration of the eviction moratorium.

“It’s going be very difficult to handle – people without housing,” Marroquin said, citing the number of people living out of their vehicles near the Day Worker Center on Escuela Avenue.

According to Foster, the nonprofit community will need to further step up to help where local government cannot.

“What we are going to see is what we have been seeing, and that is a number of people slipping through the cracks,” she said.

Kamei said the city of Mountain View has been doing plenty to prevent displacement, which is one of its strategic goals. The city contributed more than $5 million during the pandemic to help residents in need of food and shelter. Mountain View has provided a “safe parking” program for 120 vehicle dwellers, according to Kamei, and engaged in a Project Homekey collaboration that resulted in modular, interim housing for 100 homeless residents.

The city, Kamei added, is looking at starting a universal basic income program with a monthly stipend, a plan the city council was set to discuss last week.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck, multipronged approach,” she said. “It’s not going to be one of us, it’s going to be all of us to make an impact.”

Wealthy donors can help as well – they just need to be aware, Foster said. She founded her nonprofit in 2018, she said, when more than 90% of donor giving went to causes and organizations other than community nonprofits. But she discovered many donors were not cognizant of the need.

“When donors learn about what’s happening locally, donors give locally,” she said.

For more information on Los Altos Community Foundation and its “Community Conversations,” visit losaltoscf.org.