Category for the land

December 8th in Ojai, CA 2017

Picture from a photographer, Stuart Palley, who in the last couple of years has found a calling in documenting wildfire and the crews that fight it.

Screenshot 2017-12-29 at 1.01.54 PM

The Thomas Fire has been an overwhelming event, plus it ate my office (and musician friend Taylor‘s studio and barn). Did publish a story about the start of the fire in our area in the Santa Barbara Independent, which deserves mention, as does a really excellent Wikipedia compendium about the blaze.

So much to report and say and write! To start here’s a view of the fire looking north into the black.

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The biggest problem in California: Housing

State Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson came to Ojai recently, and visited with the Ojai Valley Green Coalition, where I volunteer, and met with the board of directors. We discussed many topics but ended up on the issue that has been dividing the state: housing — affordable housing — and the lack thereof. The New York Times this weekend had an excellent explainer (with anecdotes from Berkeley) on the issue. Here’s the nut:

The affordable-housing crunch is a nationwide problem, but California is the superlative. The state’s median home price, at just over $500,000, is more than twice the national level and up about 60 percent from five years ago, according to Zillow. It affects the poor, the rich and everyone in between.

In San Diego, one of the worst hepatitis outbreaks in decades has killed 20 people and was centered on the city’s growing homeless population. Across the state, middle-income workers are being pushed further to the fringes and in some cases enduring three-hour commutes.

Then there is Patterson + Sheridan, a national intellectual property law firm that has its headquarters in Houston and recently bought a private jet to ferry its Texas lawyers to Bay Area clients. The jet was cheaper than paying local lawyers, who expect to make enough to offset the Bay Area’s inflated housing costs. “The young people that we want to hire out there have high expectations that are hard to meet,” said Bruce Patterson, a partner at the firm. “Rent is so high they can’t even afford a car.”

From the windows of a San Francisco skyscraper, the Bay Area looks as if it’s having a housing boom. There are cranes around downtown and rising glass and steel condominiums. In the San Francisco metropolitan area, housing megaprojects — buildings with 50 or more units — account for a quarter of the new housing supply, up from roughly half that level in the previous two decades, according to census data compiled by BuildZoom, a San Francisco company that helps homeowners find contractors.

The problem is that smaller and generally more affordable quarters like duplexes and small apartment buildings, where young families get their start, are being built at a slower rate. Such projects hold vast potential to provide lots of housing — and reduce sprawl — by adding density to the rings of neighborhoods that sit close to job centers but remain dominated by larger lots and single-family homes.

Neighborhoods in which single-family homes make up 90 percent of the housing stock account for a little over half the land mass in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, according to Issi Romem, BuildZoom’s chief economist. There are similar or higher percentages in virtually every American city, making these neighborhoods an obvious place to tackle the affordable-housing problem.

“Single-family neighborhoods are where the opportunity is, but building there is taboo,” Mr. Romem said. As long as single-family-homeowners are loath to add more housing on their blocks, he said, the economic logic will always be undone by local politics.

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Steve Lopez had a typically excellent, human column on the topic this weekend for the LA Times:

Like other transplants I spoke to in Nevada, Herndandez didn’t want to leave California. It’s home. It’s where she went to school and where her parents still live in the house she grew up in. But unless you choose a career that will pay you a small fortune to manage costs driven higher by a stubborn shortage of new housing, California is not a dream, it’s a mirage.

Moving to get a better job or move up the workplace chain is nothing new. But what’s going on here seems different — people leaving not for better jobs or pay, but because housing elsewhere is so much cheaper they can live the middle-class life that eludes them in California.

After college, Hernandez worked as a congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., and then went to Chicago for a few years. But the West drew her back. Not California, but Nevada, where she worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Las Vegas and then joined the staff of a state legislator in the state capital.

“I started looking at the bigger picture in Carson City, where I was able to pay the rent, have a car and a comfortable life and put some money into a 401(k),” Hernandez said. “Would I be able to do that in California? Probably not.”

It’s a generational conflict, essentially, and it’s painful for me to contemplate how poorly once again my generation has prepared for those to come, including the creative young people of the golden state.

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Southern California 2017

 

 

L.A FreewayLAFreeway

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Nerve gas for Ventura County, thanks to the Trump EPA

As Lily Tomlin has pointed out, “No matter how cynical you become, you can’t keep up.” Especially in these days of Donald Trump.

Last week (was it only last week?) a meticulously sourced story in the New York Times by Eric Lipton (Why Has the EPA shifted on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Calls the Shots) detailed how a smart advocate from the American Chemistry Council, Dr. Nancy Beck, was given broad authority to take over the agency’s regulation of toxic chemicals and personally rewrite the rules. It’s a tremendous story with one particular angle of great importance to Ventura County.

To keep it as succinct as possible…last year, after decades of controversy, a bipartisan bill revising the rules of chemical regulation passed Congress and was signed into law. Lipton’s story frames what happened to that legislation under Scott Pruit, the new EPA administrator appointed by Trump, as a polite but edgy dialogue between a scientist named Wendy Hamnett, who spent her career at the agency, and was contemplating retirement, and Beck, who was given unprecedented rule-making authority by the new administration.

Hamnett wanted to believe the EPA would continue to conscientiously regulate chemical use under the new bill, but was taken aback to discover that one of the most dangerous of chemicals on the market — the pesticide Chlorpyrifos, which had been slated to be banned — would not be regulated.

“It was extremely disturbing to me,” Ms. Hamnett said of the order she received to reverse the proposed pesticide ban. “The industry met with E.P.A. political appointees. And then I was asked to change the agency’s stand.”

The E.P.A. and Dr. Beck declined repeated requests to comment that included detailed lists of questions.

“No matter how much information we give you, you would never write a fair piece,” Liz Bowman, a spokeswoman for the E.P.A., said in an email. “The only thing inappropriate and biased is your continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”

Hamnett tried to keep the faith in the agency and the 2016 bill, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act for the 21st century, but…back to the Lipton story: .

That would translate into a rigorous crackdown on the most dangerous chemicals, regardless of the changes [at the agency].

But her confidence in the E.P.A.’s resolve was fragile, and it had been shaken by other actions, including the order Ms. Hamnett received to reverse course on banning the pesticide chlorpyrifos.

The order came before Dr. Beck’s arrival at the agency, but Ms. Hamnett saw the industry’s fingerprints all over it. Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, instructed Ms. Hamnett to ignore the recommendation of agency scientists, she said.

The scientists had called for a ban based on research suggesting the pesticide might cause developmental disabilities in children.

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Farm workers in a field picking berries. Chlorpyrifos, a pesticide blamed for developmental disabilities in children, is still widely used in agriculture. In March, Mr. Pruitt overrode agency scientists’ recommendation to ban it. CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

To keep the pesticide on the market, under E.P.A. guidelines, the agency needed to have a “reasonable certainty” that no harm was being caused.

“The science and the law tell us this is the way to go,” Ms. Hamnett said of a ban.

But the reaction from her superiors was not about the science or the law, she said. Instead, they queried her about Dow Chemical, the pesticide’s largest manufacturer, which had been lobbying against a ban.

The clash is recorded in Ms. Hamnett notebook as well as in emails among Mr. Pruitt’s top political aides, which were obtained by The Times.

“They are trying to strong arm us,” Mr. Jackson wrote after meeting with Ms. Hamnett, who presented him with a draft petition to ban the pesticide.

Mr. Jackson, Ms. Hamnett’s notebook shows, then asked her to come up with alternatives to a ban. He asserted, her notes show, that he did not want to be “forced into a box” by the petition.

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Ms. Hamnett recorded Mr. Jackson’s reaction to a pesticide ban in her notebook.

“I scared them,” Mr. Jackson wrote in an email to a colleague about his demands on Ms. Hamnett and her team.

As a possible compromise, Ms. Hamnett’s team had been talking to Dow about perhaps phasing out the pesticide instead of imposing an immediate ban. But Dow, after Mr. Trump’s election, was suddenly in no mood to compromise, Ms. Hamnett recalled. Dow did not respond to requests for comment.

She now knew, she said, that the effort to ban the pesticide had been lost, something Mr. Jackson’s emails celebrated.

“They know where this is headed,” Mr. Jackson wrote.

A couple of years ago an equally great (and award winning) story by Liza Gross for The Nation detailed the fact that Ventura County is one of the most pesticide drenched lands in the state and the nation. To wit:

Oxnard and surrounding Ventura County grow more than 630 million pounds of strawberries a year, enough to feed 78 million Americans. But that bounty exacts a heavy toll: strawberries rank among California’s most pesticide-intensive crops. The pesticides that growers depend on—a revolving roster of caustic and highly volatile chemicals called fumigants—are among the most toxic used in agriculture. They include sixty-six chemicals that have been identified by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as the most likely to drift through the air and cause harm. Studies in laboratory animals and humans have linked many of these chemicals—including the organophosphate chlorpyrifos and fumigants 1,3-Dichloropropene (1,3-D), metam sodium, methyl bromide and chloropicrin, all used in strawberry production—to one or several chronic health conditions, including birth defects, asthma, cancer and multiple neurodevelopmental abnormalities.


Dayane Zuñiga

Use of many of these sixty-six pesticides has fallen statewide since 2007. But a handful of communities saw a dramatic increase. By 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, more than 29 million pounds of these chemicals—more than half the total used in the state—were applied in just 5 percent of California’s 1,769 census ZIP codes, according to an independent investigation by this reporter. In two ZIP codes that Zuñiga knows well—areas that include the Oxnard High neighborhood where she trained and south Oxnard, where she lives—applications of these especially toxic pesticides, which were already among the highest in the state, rose between 61 percent and 84 percent from 2007 t0 2012, records at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation show. Both are among the ten ZIP codes with the most intensive use of these pesticides in California. And both have sizable Latino populations—around 70 percent—thanks, in part, to the large number of farm jobs in the area. The great majority of the people who work in the strawberry fields in Oxnard, which hosts the largest population of farmworkers in Ventura County, come from Mexico.

As so often is the case, the wonky details and the fact that brown people bear the brunt of these chemical impacts means very little discussion of the continued use of Chlorpyrifos has ensued. One notable exception comes from Nicholas Kristof, who at least once a year points to the danger of chemicals in his Sunday Times olumn. This past Sunday Kristof was especially blunt in an interactive column called: Trump’s Legacy: Damaged Brains.

The pesticide, which belongs to a class of chemicals developed as a nerve gas made by Nazi Germany, is now found in food, air and drinking water. Human and animal studies show that it damages the brain and reduces I.Q.s while causing tremors among children. It has also been linked to lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease in adults.

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The colored parts of the image above, prepared by Columbia University scientists, indicate where a child’s brain is physically altered after exposure to this pesticide.

And now the Trump administration is embracing it, overturning a planned ban that had been in the works for many years.

What recourse can citizens who care about health — especially the health of people who live near strawberry fields — have except not to eat commercially-grown strawberries? I wish I knew.

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Trail signs along the PCT: Section Q

Just have to say that the trail signs in Section Q — the Marble Mountains — in the far north of California were the best (that is, most Zen) that I have seen along the length of California. They deserve remembering in their own right, so here goes:

Marble MoCame untain Wilderness sign IMG_2590

Next day I after about 5 or so miles I came to what turned out to be a superb water source, the sort of place I should have camped near, but oh well. Lovely place for a second breakfast.

Water sign IMG_2620

It’s a gorgeous area, which the signs hint in their own quiet way. If you look very closely you can see a grasshopper crouched in a nick in the sign above tghe “I.”

Sky High Lakes IMG_2728

This isn’t exactly a sign but it’s emblematic as hell of the area.

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Wasn’t all beautiful: substantial burns to walk through at times, and the sky was smoky, from fires burning to the north and west.

PCT burn sign

This sign, at the base of the gorgeous trail along Grider Creek; well, if you look closely you will see it has some occult aspects. On the top post is written “State of Jefferson” with its rebel XX symbol, but below the post is written State of Mind. Pretty cool.

Cliff creek sign

Entering the tiny town of Seiad Valley, one sees these “No Monument” signs everywhere…though this one simplified the question impressively.

No Monument sign IMG_2918

Even the official signs in this area (Section R now) are most interesting than most.

Snag signs IMG_2929

I love the way signs in this section live past their legibility.

Zen sign IMG_2998

Or are taken into the landscape via trees:

Echo Lake IMG_3021

But this was my all-time fave:

PCT in tree IMG_3050

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last morning in California

I’ve now been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in sections since 2012, and have reached Oregon. I’ve been sorely remiss in posting of my progress, which I regret, and will in some measure redress. For the sake of beauty at this site if no other.

This shot comes from my last morning in California, as the sun rose.

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The genius of a place: Vaclav Cilek

Mesmerized to have stumbled upon a Czech geologist/climatologist/essayist/philosopher of place, via the great Robert MacFarlane, quoted here.

Vaclav Cilek sees the spirit of landscapes, or rather, sees the possibility of seeing the spirit, the true nature, the inner workings of landscapes (an idea with which he’s comfortable, having spent years cataloguing caves in and around Prague). One can’t summarize in a line or two the depth of his thought, one can only quote a bit, to which one wishes to return, as we return to poetry.

The Rule of Slow Approaching
The thought that you can arrive by a car, stay for a while and understand is in most places merely an illusion. Some places are shy, other places behave like a director in chief – they accept you, but you will need to wait. I know of one place (I am sure there are many, but I didn’t have enough time for them), where it is necessary to approach for three days. We never arrive to unknown sacred spaces directly, it is much better to walk slowly, to hesitate, to circle the place first and only then to approach. An unknown place is not only one that we do not know, but also one which doesn’t know us. Some places demand a great respect, but sometimes respect is in the way, and we achieve more with a smile.

And perhaps most exciting of all, Cilek although well aware of the changes to come in climate, does not appear to be a catastrophist.

My message is simple: the gods of the earth are awakening, the time of change is here, I say to myself with joy and apprehension.

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Drought over for Ojai? Not yet, but…

Much of Ventura County has now (this water year, beginning in October) reached 100% of annual rainfall. Cheri Carlson writes in the VC Star

This is the first winter since 2011 for the area to get above-average rainfall.

Much of the Ventura County has had 120 to 180 percent of normal rainfall so far this year, ranging from 10 to 21 inches.

Four cities  – Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard and Port Hueneme – already have recorded as much rain as they normally would get in a year.

20170207_ca_noneIn Ojai, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, we have are at about 150% of normal, at over 15 inches (including over 10 inches in January). Yet look at the US Drought Monitor and it shows much of the county still in extreme drought.

As Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford writes today in the NYTImes, this wild ride from extreme drought to extreme precipitation will not surprise climate scientists.

“The other bitter reality is that this extremely wet winter will not wash away the drought. Depending where one looks, California lost out on one to three full years of precipitation from 2012 to 2016. That is a lot of water to make up in one year, and as of last week almost half of California was still in a state of drought. The moisture deficits that have accumulated during the drought have not been seen in our lifetimes. They have caused thousands of California residents to go without running water, resulted in groundwater contamination and permanent loss of aquifer storage capacity, and have severely stressed tens of millions of trees. As a result, even after this wet year, rural communities, groundwater aquifers and forest ecosystems will still feel the effects of the drought.”

But if we’ve had 150% of normal, and we are between one and three years of water deficit, surely it’s plausible to think that a really good storm — one that might drop between 3 and 10 inches of rain over six days, putting us at over 200% of an average water year, in record-setting territory, as is forecast — might bring us nearly to normal? Such as this image (via UC San Diego)  showing water vapor smacking California repeatedly over the next week?

Sounds plausible. Let us pray for rain — with not too much flooding. Just enough extremity, but not too much.

iwv_USWC_loop

 

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The madness of Trump’s “alternative facts”

A tsunami of derision has attached itself to the President Trump’s best explainer/apologizer KellyAnne Conway’s assertion last week that the President’s press secretary was offering alternative facts to explain the President’s obviously wrong belief regarding the (small) size of the crowd at his inauguration. Even some of the best coaches in professional basketball, led by Steve Kerr of the Warriors, have joined in the mockery.

When asked about his [Houston Rockets] team struggling, going 3-5 over their last eight games, [Coach Mike]D’Antoni told reporters: “Actually we won all those games. I’m going with that alternative fact thing.”

The best column I’ve seen on the subject of the new administration’s um, assertion of untruths, comes from Dana Milbank, the most popular newspaper columnist in the country, who points out that President Trump is “barking mad.”

“It was almost raining,” the new president told CIA workers in Langley, recounting his inaugural address, “but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech. In fact, when I first started, I said, oh, no. The first line, I got hit by a couple of drops. And I said, oh, this is too bad, but we’ll go right through it. But the truth is that it stopped immediately. It was amazing. And then it became really sunny. And then I walked off and it poured right after I left. It poured.”

Really sunny? I was there for the inaugural address, in the sixth row, about 40 feet from Trump, and I remembered the exact opposite: It began to rain when he started and tapered off toward the end. There wasn’t a single ray of sunshine, before, during or after the speech. Was my memory playing tricks on me?

No, of course not — the current President of the United States has so little regard for fact that he will without a second’s qualm lie about even the weather, even about the same weather experienced by thousands of his fellow Americans, and millions more watching on television. Many professionals are saying in public that he is in fact clinically mentally ill.

But this week along with the derision and the psychoanalysis I heard some words of wisdom (methinks) from a much-loved California public official, John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources, who told a packed crowd of hundreds of cientists, bureaucrats, and advocates at the California Climate Change Symposium that we must not be distracted from their work in the environment and on climate change by “alternative facts.”

I quote Hunter Thompson, who said in the Nixon years “when the going gets tough, the weird turn pro.” It’s tempting to want to do all things but if we’re going to be pros we’re going to have to focus. It means people need to work on one or two or three issues. Being scattershot is not the right response. I think people sort of get this: if I care about reproductive rights I get with Planned Parenthood. I join the ACLU to defend immigrants rights. But the question [I have for you] is, how do I plug in on climate change? What I want to do in closing is pass that challenge on to you. I think that there is a ready and willing public and it’s not enough for government agencies to say this is what we’re doing, even though I think we’re doing our best work in years.

I’ve gone this far without mentioning “alternative facts.’ There’s a nuance here. If you focus totally on alternative facts you’re allowing someone else to drive the debate and it’s on us to focus on the real facts…That means not going down ratholes and that we really focus in a way that is meaningful and not scattershot. I think we are to up to it and we are going to drive this debate. So don’t get deterred. We are going to be pros.

Yes, we are — and it starts with believing our eyes. Shouldn’t be impossible, as Orwell reminds us.

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Wounded Earth: poem and photograph

The late great C.K. Williams thinks through the suffering of the earth — whose suffering is it really?

Is it as I suspect not that rare for you to be
wounded ravaged stripped of so much
of what you wore with seeming pride

your seething glittering oceans your forests
nothing new for you meteors comets
volcanoes extinctions the battering ice ages

so perhaps we shouldn’t psalm poor earth
for truly we moan and despair for ourselves
cast into that future we dread while the time

in which we sorrowed you’ll not have regretted
because how can earth not have a past
and how can earth even with a past so fouled

not notice how we departed leaving our heirs
to mourn this patch this sherd of existence
we’d been so confident we’d cherish forever

C. K. Williams

Falling Ill
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The last lines haunt, and bring up the work of the great wounded landscape photographer Edward Burtynksy, recently profiled in The New Yorker (and esp powerful on-line by the way).

Burtynsky photographs the “wounded ravaged stripped” earth without apology, rather like the earth in Williams’ poem I think, and photographically strips it of us and all our wailing and moaning and shows it as it is. Our feelings about the damage mean so little to the planet really.

oilbunkering5nigerdelta2016

 

Or Burtynsky puts it in The New Yorker story:

“I am not out to tell people a unitary story about what they should do to save the earth but, rather, to give people a picture of what it takes to live the way we do.’ ”

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