So Long Arana Gulch!

The most egregious example of local bureaucratic cock-ups came to a head today with the ceremonial groundbreaking for the deservedly delayed and much opposed $6 million Broadway-Brommer Bike Road.

Long opposed by real environmentalists, the Broadway-Brommer project has suffered a spotty history over the last twenty years. Originally conceived as a street for cars connecting Broadway in the City to Brommer Street in Live Oak, the project was axed by Santa Cruz City officials in response to environmental opposition. Later, as a paved bike road, the project was again laid to rest by a subsequent City Council.

Nevertheless, City Public Works staff, reluctant to lose out on one-and-a-half million dollars of “free”federal money, revived the moribund project. Over the years, the B-B morphed from a car road, to a Class One Bicycle Commuter route with an enormous bridge spanning Arana Creek, to a curving, up and down bike road with bridges over Hagemann Creek and Arana Creek. Finally, donning funny nose and glasses, B-B was disguised as a “multi-use interpretive trail,” as the overwhelmingly dominant component of the yet to be implemented Arana Gulch Master Plan.

The B-B project follows the historical government tradition of “destroying the village to save it.” Since all of Arana Gulch is declared Critical Habitat for the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant, Public Works staff struggled to find some way to justify building a paved road through the fragile species’ only home. City officials had to find some way to make the project “resource dependent” to satisfy California Coastal Commission regulations for development in Sensitive Habitat Areas, such as Arana Gulch.

Thus was born the “interpretive trail.” No, it’s not a different route. Yes, it still paves over critical habitat of an endangered species. But now the project has interpretive signs that will describe what was lost when this Natural Area was drawn and quartered, north to south and east to west, by an 8 foot wide asphalt paved road with two feet of graded shoulder on either side, where nothing will grow.

The Boondoggle took it’s first wee steps this week, kicked into a mockery of life with the traditional celebratory groundbreaking. Scores of brightly bedecked bicyclists joined toothy City Fathers… and one Mother, in the bright noon sun. A massive diesel backhoe supplied the necessary technology, mysteriously idling for no apparent reason, adding it’s diesel fumes to the rapidly accumulating hot air.

To “Balance” this display of bureaucratic excess, Friends of Arana Gulch, a stalwart group of caring environmentalists who have consistently opposed the Broadway-Brommer project lo these many years, arrived in funereal black to mourn the demise of the Arana Gulch Greenbelt. Bearing signs saying, “Good-bye to the Greenbelt,” “Shame,” “Less trees, less grass, less wildflowers, less wildlife,” “Is Broadway-Brommer really needed?” and “Save it, don’t pave it,” the Friends stood in silent vigil for the animals, plants and insects who have no say in the future of their home in Arana Gulch.

The assembled officials donned unfamiliar hardhats, grabbed golden-painted shovels, and, after instructions on which end to point at the ground, posed for the obligatory photographs. They scraped meager scratches into the hard packed earth, gratefully returned the shovels to those who know how to use them, and decanted into the crowd for obsequious self-congratulations. 

Thus the fate of the Arana Gulch Greenbelt was signed, sealed and delivered. No longer a Natural Area, now an incipient Park for human recreation, and a paved shortcut for bicyclists in a hurry, Arana Gulch passes into history along with its sensitive species, unique habitat, its quiet, its open space, its true value. 

Arana Gulch is now just another anonymous feature in the urban development that has inundated the landscape from Moore Creek to Valencia Creek, from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

So long Arana Gulch! 
It was good to have known you.

When Dogs Run Free

In the past few weeks there has been much discussion in Live Oak about allowing dogs to run off leash on the beach between Corcoran and Moran Lagoons. 
Although Santa Cruz County has strict leash laws that apply to the beaches as well as inland, some dog owners have gotten used to letting their dogs run off-leash on the beaches, as budget restrictions have resulted in intermittent leash law enforcement by County Animal Services. Recent patrols by Animal Services officers have raised awareness of restrictions on off-leash dogs and have prompted some dog owners to lobby Animal Services and County government to grant exemptions to the leash law at the three County beaches.
One of the arguments put forward by dog owners in favor of off-leash hours on the beach, is that responsible dog owners obey the laws, pick up after their dogs and help keep the beaches clean. To see how well this works, I took a tour of two beaches in the City limits of Santa Cruz. 

Mitchell’s Cove beach has off-leash dog hours from sunrise to 10 am and 4 PM to sunset, the same hours proposed for the three County Beaches, and well posted with signage at the stairs leading down to the beach. I was there at 11 AM on April 17 and watched three “responsible” dog owners letting their dogs run free on the beach, an hour past the 10 AM restriction.

Lighthouse Field State Park Beach is owned and regulated by California State Parks and is prominently posted “Dogs On Leash Only.” Nevertheless, at 11:30 AM, the beach was overrun by 20 or more dogs running off-leash, and their “responsible” owners. Since State Parks has little money for enforcement, irresponsible dog owners know that this is a place where they can bring their dogs to run free with impunity.

While it is true that there are many responsible local dog owners who do not flaunt local, county, state and federal laws, there are also many irresponsible dog owners who ignore the laws by letting their dogs run free in prohibited areas. This is why we have strict leash laws in the County and City and why its is essential that special exemptions to the law not be made for specific beaches.
There are thirteen specified inland “Off-Leash” dog parks in Santa Cruz City and County, where dog owners can take their dogs for exercise, socialization and fun for their dogs and for themselves. Dogs running free on beaches harass and drive off wildlife, including the endangered Western Snowy Plover. 
Let’s all be responsible dog owners and non-dog owners and preserve the beaches for animals who have no other place to go.

Seasonal Shifts on Arana Gulch

Thanks to Ma Nature, we’ve had gorgeous sunny weather on Arana Gulch this week, warming the soil, mixing with the great early rain we’ve had these past two seasons, getting those tarplant and Molina seeds ready to germinate after the winter rains.

The red-tailed hawk mother has had her children out practicing their soaring over the coastal prairie terraces, what’s left of them at least. We hear their high, shrill cries every day, wafting down from the quiet, cloudless sky.

Now that the City has mowed the entire upper terrace, the wee beasties that live there have less cover to hide in, making their lives more perilous, but causing the predators to lick their lips in anticipation. Life goes on in balance.

The creatures of Arana Gulch pause briefly during this time between seasons, pulling the last whisps of warm air about their shoulders, stocking up on supplies to last through the coming rains, putting on some weight, bulking up on carbohydrates for the long wet and cold to come. The bushes are filled with golden crowned sparrows and SBJs (small brown jobbies), gobbling the ripened seeds, stocking up on warming oils from tar-weedy indigenous plants. Their chittering warbles fill the quiescent air.

Putting an industrial scale bike road through this quiet and contemplative habitat would change its character forever, slicing through this interdependent circle of life with a paved pathway for skirling skateboard noise and rushing bicycle wheels as they whiz by the interpretive displays without notice. A high speed bike road is incompatible with this designated Natural Area.

To put a stop to the City of Santa Cruz Broadway-Brommer Bicycle Pedestrian Connection project, visit Friends of Arana Gulch at and sign the petition to the California Coastal Commission to take the Broadway-Brommer project out of the Arana Gulch Master Plan.

Occupy Arana Gulch

While we’re busy occupying the public sphere, declaring our independence from corporate and government dominance, pause and give a thought to our natural areas that cannot speak for themselves in the public, human forum.

Arana Gulch is a greenbelt, set aside by a vote of the people of Santa Cruz as a natural area surrounded by human development. Arana Gulch is a tiny fraction of what once was a prevalent coastal prairie terrace environment along the Central Coast of California.

Before European humans arrived on the scene some 250 years ago and took over the neighborhood, including the neighbors, Arana Gulch was home to a variety of interdependent species: elk, deer, mountain lions, bobcats, gophers, red-tailed hawks, Coopers hawks, turkey buzzards, swifts, golden-crowned sparrows, field mice aplenty, steelhead, tidewater gobie, several species of salmon, popcorn flower, Molina, Live Oak, willow, Himalayan blackberry, and the Santa Cruz tarplant.

Years ago the tarplant grew by the hundreds of thousands in Arana Gulch, pollinated by a variety of insect species, its seeds spread by grazers such as elk and deer, tiny birds and the winds they fly on. In recent years, land use changes have caused the tarplant to diminish severely, until recently, when discovery of less than forty living plants was a cause for celebration. As a result, the Santa Cruz tarplant was declared endangered by the State of California and threatened by the United States government. In 2002, the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared all of Arana Gulch as Critical Habitat for the Santa Cruz tarplant.

Since 1971, the City of Santa Cruz has planned and attempted to build a paved roadway across the sensitive habitat of Arana Gulch, connecting two city streets on either side of the greenbelt, first for automobiles, and, since 1991, for bicycles. The paving would be eight feet wide with two feet of gravel shoulder on either side, carving a twelve foot wide gash across the Critical Habitat for the endangered tarplant.

Friends of Arana Gulch has worked for over sixteen years to stop the city from building this project. Since much of Arana Gulch is in the California Coastal Zone, the City must apply to the California Coastal Commission for a development permit to build this cross-town bicycle connection through Arana Gulch. Friends of Arana Gulch is asking for your help in appealing to the Coastal Commission to stop this development project and produce an Arana Gulch Master Plan that sets City policy to manage the Arana Gulch Greenbelt to restore and preserve this sensitive habitat for the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant and all the species that inhabit Arana Gulch.

Go to Friends of Arana Gulch to learn more and sign up to help out.

It’s the Law, Don

In a misinformed editorial in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Don Miller, Sentinel Editor, completely missed the point of the recent California Coastal Commission decision regarding the City of Santa Cruz’s application to build a paved bicycle route through critical habitat for an endangered species, the Santa Cruz tarplant, Holocarpha macradenia.

The editorial is incorrect in several respects. The City of Santa Cruz did not argue that “paving two trails” in Arana Gulch “would be the greater good, publicly and environmentally.” Rather, the City proposed a transportation project in an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, which is not allowed under the California Coastal Act.

It doesn’t matter that the City worked on the flawed plan for over 15 years. It doesn’t matter that the inadequate alternatives proposed in the Arana Gulch Draft Master Plan Environmental Impact Report were defended in court. It doesn’t matter that a recently proposed alternative route is not considered “safe and accessible” by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission. The Broadway-Brommer bicycle route with paved trails and two bridges across critical habitat for the tarplant, is simply illegal under state law.

What matters is that the City has for years failed to manage Arana Gulch, resulting in eroding paths, illegal campers and endangered species. This is no excuse for the California Coastal Commission to bail them out by approving an illegal project.

The City of Santa Cruz should do the right thing, finally: manage Arana Gulch for the tarplant and all other species, and look elsewhere for their transportation project.

Save Arana Gulch, don’t pave it!

It is beyond ironic that in the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity, the City of Santa Cruz persists in a project that will decrease critical habitat for the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant in Arana Gulch.

Arana Gulch is a tiny remnant of a Coastal Prairie ecosystem that once stretched for hundreds of miles along the Central Coast, supporting an incredible profusion of life that occupied this region for thousands of years before humans destroyed it with pavement and buildings. The proposed paving project on Arana Gulch will forever carve up what little remains, strangling the Arana Gulch Greenbelt with a Black Belt.

Let’s celebrate this Year of Biodiversity by thinking beyond ourselves for a change and preserving and restoring this fragile piece of critical habitat for the few remaining species that have survived our intense domination of the natural world.

Save Arana Gulch. Don’t pave it.

Go to: Friends of Arana Gulch to find out what you can do to help SAVE ARANA GULCH!