Northern Californian fires spur Contra Costa Community College District class cancellation

Contra Costa College first to cancel classes due to bad air quality

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

In the wake of the devastating fires that are ravaging Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties, leaving debilitating smoke across the entire Bay Area, Contra Costa Community College District officials elected to cancel classes for Thursday at each of its three colleges (Contra Costa, Diablo Valley and Los Medanos) and both of its centers (San Ramon and Brentwood).

Midway through the district Governing Board meeting, held Wednesday night in Martinez, the board announced the cancelation of Thursday classes and use the CCC Gymnasium as a Red Cross shelter, making available hundreds of beds to those who have been displaced by the wildfires and the evacuations that have accompanied them.

By 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, district Director of Communications and Community Relations Tim Leong sent an email instructing district employees, unless otherwise notified by their college supervisors, not to come to work today (Thursday).

But at 4:30 p.m. today, Contra Costa College President Mojdeh Mehdizadeh announced the campus will be open on Friday and that its regularly scheduled classes and events will be held. Classes will also resume at all district colleges and centers on Friday.

Board President Vicki Gordon said the Red Cross contacted her and asked that she find space available for potential evacuees.

“We needed to make 500 beds available and since CCC was already closed for Thursday — it made perfect sense,” she said.

CCC students and faculty learned of today’s campus closure via an email announcement from Mehdizadeh shortly after 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.

By the time the Governing Board meeting had ended, the Red Cross was already at CCC working out the logistics of transforming the Gymnasium into an evacuation center.

“The Red Cross is already walking the campus with Lieutenant (Thomas) Holt,” Mehdizadeh said, following the board meeting. “They bring in all of their supplies and equipment and basically take over (an area).”

Contra Costa County Environmental Health Specialist Timothy Kraus was also part of the team tasked assessing the Gymnasium’s readiness for evacuees.

“The county and the Red Cross plan ahead and coordinate for events like this,” he said. “We have training that we apply to make sure everyone is safe. In a shelter assessment, we make sure there are enough showers and facilities and that they are sanitary —typically (ready for) 15 people per shower and 25-29 per toilet.”

With unoccupied cots already in the Gymnasium by this morning ready for future evacuees, Mehdizadeh said the Gym wouldn’t be available for use by the college when classes resume Friday.

“We won’t know until we have more information from the Red Cross and the way that they want to handle things. We’ll do as they say,” Mehdizadeh said. “We have to play it by ear. We have been working with West Contra Costa School District Superintendent Matt Duffy and we have a conference call with the chancellor (district Chancellor Fred Wood) this afternoon to assess things and make a collective decision on how to move forward.”

This morning, an abundance of ash still dusted the San Pablo campus and the air surrounding DVC was rife with smoke and particulate matter. A health advisory and spare the air alert was issued by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) that is set to be in effect until the weekend.

Earlier this week Comet sporting events had already been postponed for the rest of the week.

The football team, slated to face Santa Rosa Junior College Saturday has been scrubbed. SRJC has been closed since Monday and won’t re-open until mid-week next week at the earliest. The postponements also include Friday’s men’s soccer game at Napa Valley College and tonight’s home volleyball game against Mendocino College.

Re-scheduling these Bay Valley Conference games (soccer and volleyball) will be addressed by BVC Commissioner Shirley Baskin, while the football officials of the Northern California Football Conference will decide game’s fate.

Additional instructions given by the BAAQMD in its advisory to residents who must remain in affected areas is to use an N95 mask to help minimize breathing harmful particles.

The memo also states that the air district is delivering 20,000 N95 masks to counties in fire-impacted areas.

According to the Centers For Disease Control and prevention, the N95 respirator is the most common of the seven types of particulate filtering face piece respirators and filters at least 95 percent of airborne particles.

The BAAQMD recommends that parents and school administrators check air quality readings before allowing children outdoors while air quality is unhealthy.

As of 2 p.m. today around the bay, the air quality rating was 161, well above unhealthy levels for people.