A New Direction, An Old Concern

corcoran lagoon

For the past six months or so,  I’ve been publishing Santa Cruz Online and Santa Cruz Environmental Review, weekly listings of local government, NGO and environmental meetings and events in and around Santa Cruz County. I started compiling these reports as a way to help myself keep track of the myriad meetings, when and where and who and why. When I discovered just how many meetings and events there are in the county, I decided to share the results of my research to help others be aware of these meetings and to encourage others to participate in local government as a result.

It’s been a satisfying effort and I’ve received many comments from those who find it useful as well.

However (there’s always a “However” isn’t there?), I’ve begun to feel my activist fingers itching to go a step beyond cataloguing meetings, and moving, in parallel, toward commentary and totting up of the results of those meetings, as well as promoting public engagement in the continuing saga of local government.

Thus, a new emphasis for Searching for Balance.

From now on, I will be focusing on activities, plans and proclivities of local governments and organizations with respect to local environmental problems and challenges and the laws and regulations that protect and defend local habitats and species. From natural resource and habitat conservation, to protection of local animal and plant species, and the effects of local human growth and development on the natural environment, I’ll be shining the bright light of day on less prominently visible and often neglected environmental problems in Santa Cruz County.

So join me at Searching for Balance. We may not solve all of the looming environmental problems in Our Fair County, but at least we’ll discover what they are, who is responsible for their solutions and where to find them.

Living in a natural soundscape

Noise pollution is making us oblivious to the sound of nature, says researcher | Science | The Guardian

It’s happening here, even in Our Fair City.

Here in Santa Cruz, just a mile from the beach, we can hear the sound of the surf, at least at 2 AM when there’s no automobile traffic on local streets.

Two hundred years ago, locals could hear the surf all the time, from anywhere in this area now inundated by roads, parking lots, houses, shopping centers and commercial buildings … and the noise they generate.

Imagine the audio landscape experienced by the original human inhabitants of Coastal California throughout their daily life. Elk whistling on the mountain slopes, shorebirds calling and chuckling on the beaches, songbirds in every bush and tree, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles surfing the morning breeze, crows, scrub jays and mockingbirds filling the air with their critical observations on the human condition. The riffle of raven feathers as they fly by. The prehistoric clack of great blue herons seeking their roosts in the cypress.

In a natural sounsdcape, one can learn the time of day, the seasons and the weather on the mix and variety of sounds wafting on every breeze.

In our noisy world, this rich natural complexity of the soundscape has been greatly simplified, reduced to automobile noise, motorized leaf blowers, car sound systems set on stun, and the ubiquitous electronic technobabble plugged into most every pair of ears. The demanding jangle of modern sounds allows no respite for thought, contemplation or even quiet enjoyment of natural sounds, soothing to ears and brains that evolved in a meaningful audio environment. Even libraries are no longer a quiet place for reading and introspection.

It’s no wonder that Santa Cruz City parks planners contemplated including a Quick Response (QR) Code on interpretive signs for the Arana Gulch Amusement Park so that children could listen to bird songs on their cell phones.

Let’s use our ears for something other than auxiliary input jacks.

Let’s listen to the natural world and learn its glad tidings.

Where can I take my dog off-leash on the beach in Santa Cruz?

It seems that everyone wants to come to Santa Cruz, California to let their dogs run off-leash at the beach!

Even during the winter, a percentage of visitors to the beaches of Santa  Cruz County are from out of town. It must be the sun… or something. A percentage of those visitors bring their canine charges with them as  well and can’t wait to get their dogs sandy and smelly at the beach. Go figure!

How are they to know – before they get here – that their off leash dogs are not allowed  on Santa Cruz County beaches (except Mitchell’s Cove before ten and  after four)? Or that there are five beaches (Main Beach, Cowell, Natural Bridges, Wilder Ranch and Scott Creek) that don’t allow dogs at all?!

As it turns out, there’s an app for that, or at least, a web site.

Click HERE for the answer to this and other questions at Santa Cruz Off-Leash Beach!

Is This the Santa Cruz We Want to Live in? – Car Edition

We choose the world we live in, day to day. 
Is this the world we want?

Over 50% of the land surface in Santa Cruz is devoted to roads,
parking and automobile services.
Automobiles are so ubiquitous in the United States we don’t even notice them. We’ve forgotten that our neighborhoods used to be quiet, day and night, free of the constant traffic noise that plagues our community today. We’ve forgotten how to walk from one place to another, or even ride that wonder of the early 1900s, the bicycle.
Here in Santa Cruz, where the sun shines 90% of the time, where it only rains, intermittently, from December to May, the streets are clogged every day with cars, carrying one person, traveling less than two miles around town.

Rather than a coastal town, Santa Cruz has become a car town. Access to coastal amenities means sailing through an ocean of cars, struggling for a berthing spot within a ten minute walk, then finding the car again and swimming upstream to get back home again.

The Municipal Wharf  has become the Municipal Coastal Parking Lot, a half-mile long line of cars decorating the fading facades of topside businesses.
For those who don’t have cars, either by choice or circumstance, other means of transportation, and income are required.
Surely, we can do better. 
Must our vision for a livable future for Santa Cruz include our present obeisance to the automobile?

Michael and Jean’s Further AMTRAK Adventures

In Michael and Jean’s Further AMTRAK Adventures, we find our heroes traveling north out of LA on the Coast Starlight, heading for home at the end of a week-long AMTRAK trip to Norman (expletive deleted), Oklahoma and back.

We boarded the train with weary relief, after having traversed the desert wastes of Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas, twice, all the while dodging increasing numbers of freight trains, forcing us to cool our wheels on anonymous sidings. We did manage to pass through Marfa, Texas without incident this time.

We made our way past the accustomed sights, the looming high rise jail in downtown LA, the Bob Hope airport where the final scene in Casablanca wasn’t filmed, the cell phone towers disguised as palm trees, and the splendiferous Mission-style terminal in Santa Barbara. Life was grand.

Then, somewhere along the coast after Goleta, the train stopped… and stayed. The conductor came on the intercom and informed the 127 passengers aboard that the engine had broken and mechanics were being sent out from Goleta to fix it. “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

We admired the scenery outside our roomette window, the undulating surf, the sea birds and pelicans wafting by inches above the water, a pod of porpoises surfacing amidst a passing raft of kayakers. Who could complain about such a well-arranged delay in our travels. After all, we were on the train, with everything we needed.

We did have a concern about our final destination in San José, where we were to connect with the Highway 17 express bus to Santa Cruz, but it seemed doable and a discussion with our car attendant reassured us that we should make it home pretty much on schedule.

Soon enough, the engine started up again, and the lovely scenery outside began to creep slowly backwards. We were on our way again!

All was well for a while, until the train stopped once again, and stayed… again, just outside of Oceano, south of San Luis Obispo.

“Uh-oh,” we said to each other, “there goes our connection in San José.”

Sure enough, the engine had broken again, the same way (something to do with the brakes), and we sat for an hour or more athwart a crossing at the edge of town. When nothing continued to happen for a significant time period, we entered into deep and meaningful discussion with the conductor about our fate should we ever make it to San José. He called ahead and verified that indeed there would be a taxi waiting for us at the station, courtesy of AMTRAK, and a station agent would be there as well to make sure we made it home as promised.

The train crew got creative and magically switched the two engines around, somehow, so we had enough power to pull into the San Luis Obispo station. We made up our beds and snoozed fitfully until finally, some time deep in the night, we pulled out again, fully powered and with functioning brakes (we assumed), on our way again, singing across the rails.

Sure enough, when we decanted from the train in San José at 3 AM, six and a half hours late, Karen, the station agent was on the job, had called for the taxi and made sure the driver knew where to take us. In less than an hour, we were home in bed, exhausted, and embraced in the arms of Morpheus.

How to Live, Simply!

I recently read, in a blog, of a writer who says he needs $5,000 a month to live. I was astonished. My mouth literally hung open.
Yes I know, many people make a lot of money, and many people spend a lot of money that they make, and many people work long hours to make the money they spend. But I never had thought of someone “needing” $5,000 a month to live.
Here’s my perspective: I live in Santa Cruz, California about a mile from the beach at the north end of Monterey Bay. The Chamber of Commerce types call this a “destination community,” meaning,  I suppose, everyone wants to come here. And they do, every day, in long lines of cars coming across the mountains from San Jose and the Bay Area. Yes, it’s beautiful, and sunny (except for three months in the winter), and warm, and there’s beaches and surfing and the Boardwalk, and all the accoutrements of a modern, upstanding, resortical… destination.
But not all of them want to live here, year round, because it’s a small community with little industry, and not many high paying jobs. So they buy second houses here, rent them out to other visitors for exorbitantly high daily and weekly rents and have a place to stay for a week or two when they’re on vacation. Consequently, the price of housing here is astonishingly high. I mean, knock you in the eyeballs, blow out your pockets outrageous. You think that mansion out at the edge of town is expensive, try to buy a two-bedroom fixer-upper on a postage stamp lot in Santa Cruz. We’re talking half a million dollars here, and that’s US not Canadian, eh?
Now to let out my secret. Don’t tell anyone, OK?
My wife and I live here on less than $1000 a month. SHHHHH! Not so loud!
How do we do it? We live simply.
This has nothing to do with Voluntary Simplicity ™, monk-like asceticism, vows of poverty or counter-culture Luddite extremism. 
We live a normal life in our 800 square foot mobile home on a 60 by 40 foot lot in a normal mobile home park. We grow vegetables in containers around the outside of our home. We have fruit trees, berry bushes and ornamentals in the soil at the margins of the lot. We have rotating compost piles to return food leftovers to the soil. But we don’t grow all of our food all year round.
We have one car, a 1972 VW Bug, my wife bought used in 1973. We drive it to the store on the weekend for groceries and wine, less than 1,000 miles a year (yes, that’s right, year, not month.). We walk everywhere else. We both work part-time, my wife just a half-mile from home. I work at home now, but when I was employed, my job was a short mile from home. We walk or bicycle anywhere we need to go around town, and rent a car or take public transportation for once or twice a year longer trips.
But that’s just living, doing the things that everyone else does. The main difference in the way we live, and I hesitate to let this particular cat out of the bag, is that we, uh, well, we just don’t buy things. I know, I know, sounds unrealistic, Utopian, impossible, but it’s largely true.
OK, we do buy a new toothbrush every year or so, and we do buy new underwear occasionally. But most everything else we consume, if that’s the word, we get for free or for next to nothing at thrifts stores.
Also, we don’t have television, so no cable bill. We do have an old analog TeeVee and a DVD/VCR that we use to watch movies from the Public Library.  (The TV was free, and OK, we bought the DVD/VCR new a couple of years ago when our old (free) VCR conked out). We each have a laptop computer, for work and environmental/social activism and we have a DSL account with our local ISP.
We use 35-45 kwh of electricity per month, and 5-6 therms of gas. Our mobile home is situated east-west, so we get solar gain in the mornings through most of the day. We supplement this passive solar gain with a small wood stove, we gather firewood on our daily walks among nearby eucalyptus groves, and we add the ashes from the fire to the garden beds and compost piles.
We don’t have cell phones, iPods, iPads, Androids, Blackberries or other electronic devices to separate us from the world. We can’t imagine what anyone has to say that’s so important that they have to check their cell phone eleventy times an hour so they don’t miss out.
Since we don’t watch TeeVee, we’re not exposed to the bombardment of ads telling us every little thing we simply must have to live a full and complete modern life, so, we just don’t know what we’re missing.
And we’re happy with that.
OK, I’m not trying to say that we’re good and everyone else is bad. It’s just astonishing that in my lifetime (I was born when Harry S. Truman was President… of the United States) life has gone from adequate and sufficient to “needing” $5,000 a month to live!
We’ve found that when we live, simply, we have more time to engage with our neighbors, take part in our community and participate in the complex web of life that surrounds us. We take joy in each sunny morning, and each evening sunset. We delight in the brilliant stars at night, the positions of the planets, the phases of the moon. We welcome the various colorful species of birds that pause by our bird feeders on their migrations, and those who decide to stay. We wake up laughing every morning and we go to bed laughing every night.
Some people think we’re missing out, but we know we’re just living, simply.

A Plethora of Pathway Possibilities

It’s official! We read in Street Smarts | Navigating Santa Cruz County that the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail (MBSST for acronym aficionados) will pass through Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties on the Rail Trail, now in process of negotiation by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC).

This is good news for everyone concerned with non-automotive transportation in Santa Cruz County, and good news as well for those of us concerned with preserving our natural, undeveloped sensitive habitats.

With the MBSST planned for the rail corridor just 1/4 mile from Arana Gulch, there is no longer any justification for building a paved bicycle connection through Arana Gulch from Broadway to Brommer Streets through Critical Habitat for the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant. The MBSST will add yet one more cross county bicycle-pedestrian connection to the already existing network of dedicated bike lanes criss-crossing the County and City.

Even better, the MBSST will provide a car-free route through the City and county, unlike Brommer and Broadway Streets, which are busy city streets with parking on either side. This will be truly safe bicycling and walking. The MBSST will travel through developed and undeveloped areas of the county and city, providing bicyclists and walkers of every stripe an opportunity for convenient, hassle free transportation and recreation, from one side of the county to the other, even unto Monterey County and beyond.

With cross-town traffic safely accommodated on the MBSST Rail Trail, Arana Gulch can be left in its natural area state, and the City Parks and Recreation Department can continue its good work of managing Arana Gulch for the Santa Cruz tarplant and other native species.

Santa Cruz Tsunami Recovery Begins

Gray clouds and rain have settled over the Santa Cruz Harbor. Coast Guard and Harbor employees are beginning the process of hauling debris and sunken boats out of the water, while cleaning up toxic wastes spilled from capsized boats. Damage estimates are still around $15 million for harbor infrastructure and another $5 million in personal property losses.

The Coast Guard has taken command of the recovery and clean-up, with Command Posts in four places around the harbor.

One dock was almost completely destroyed, taking with it 10-12 boats. Other docks had parts ripped off, and suffered damage from being raised suddenly 5- 8 feet in the air, then dropped down onto the harbor floor. Many boats are now resting on the bottom. It will take some time before they can be raised and assessed for damages. The harbor has been closed to the general public all weekend.