In the beginning this blog was centered on San Francisco parks and open space issues with special emphasis on natural areas and natural history. Over time it began to range into other areas and topics. As you can see, it is eclectic, as I interlace it with topics of interest to me.

I welcome feedback: just click this link to reach me.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


1.   Wall Street Journal says Central Subway "off the rails"
2.   Groups file suit on AT&T Utility Boxes
3.   Tuolumne River Trust hiring two community organizers
4.   CNPS field trip to Pedro Point Sunday afternoon, the 28th
5.   Feedback: Central Subway/Hetch Hetchy/poet laureate vs CSUFresno/poetry
6.   SFPUC asks your opinion of street light designs
7.   Education system teaches The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags
8.   Coastal California's Living Legacy:  The Monterey Pine Forest
9.   Now more trees in the U.S. than ever before.  True?
10. A classical music station in San Francisco, at last
11.  Maya Angelou:  Seek patience and passion in equal amounts

“Off the San Francisco Rails:  $1.6 billion for 1.7 miles of subway”

Off the San Francisco Rails

Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but the politicians who contrived the city's Chinatown subway project must have left their brains somewhere else. The subway is a case study in government incompetence and wasted taxpayer money.
P.S. The Obama Administration is all for it.

Former Mayor Willie Brown sold a half-cent sales tax hike to voters in 2003 to pay for the 1.7-mile line on the pretext that the subway would ease congestion on Chinatown's crowded buses, but he was more interested in obtaining the political support of Chinatown's power brokers. In 2003, the city estimated the line would cost $647 million, but the latest prediction is $1.6 billion, or nearly $100 million for each tenth of a mile.
Transportation experts say the subway's design is seriously flawed and that improving the existing bus and light-rail service would make more sense. The subway misses connections with 25 of the 30 light-rail and bus lines that it crosses, and there's no direct connection to the 104-mile Bay Area Rapid Transit line or to the ferry.
Commuters will have to travel eight stories underground to catch the train and walk nearly a quarter of a mile to connect to the Market Street light-rail lines—after riding the subway for only a half mile. Tom Rubin, the former treasurer-controller of Southern California Rapid Transit District, calculates that taking the bus would be five to 10 minutes faster along every segment.
The city's metro system, which is already running $150 million operating deficits, isn't likely to have the money to keep the subway running in any case. Last month the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, a watchdog group, warned that the subway's costs "could stretch the existing maintenance environment [of the metro system] to the breaking point" and will defer the purchase of a new communications system.
Alas, San Francisco will likely drag national taxpayer money into the bay too. The city has applied for a multiyear $942 million "full funding grant agreement" from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to cover 60% of its capital costs. In 1964 Congress created a back-door earmark program called "New Starts" to subsidize local transportation projects. The FTA rates and recommends projects for grants, and Congress usually rubber-stamps its recommendations.
In January 2010, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood modified the grant criteria by adding environmental and communal benefits and minimizing cost-effectiveness. The change effectively means that any project can get federal funding as long as its sponsors claim they're moving cars off the road.
"Measuring only cost and how fast a project can move the most people the greatest distance simply misses the boat," Mr. LaHood wrote in January 2010 on his Fast Lane blog. "Look, everywhere I go, people tell me they want better transportation in their communities. They want the opportunity to leave their cars behind . . . And to enjoy clean, green neighborhoods. The old way of doing things just doesn't value what people want." We're told Mr. LaHood is smarter than he sounds.
The FTA has given the Chinatown subway one of its highest project ratings, which virtually assures a full funding grant agreement. Once the city receives such an agreement, the feds are obligated to provide whatever funds they promise. The FTA won't approve the agreements until the fall, so there's still hope that someone wises up and nixes the project. Oh, and if Congress is looking for discretionary programs to cut, New Starts would be a good start.

SIDENOTE:   Central Subway construction  will severely hurt Downtown and Chinatown businesses---for years.  Despite misinformation that all subway work will be underground, the Civil Grand Jury Report reveals (Page 16):  "The SFMTA states.....the management of the vertical structure within these enclosed sites [subway stations] is based on a conventional vertical structure construction methodology.”  In other words, streets will be dug up and excavated for station construction---in addition to disruptive staging of building materials, supplies, equipment and personnel.

Jake Sigg writing to Howard Wong regarding this item:
The FTA has given the Chinatown subway one of its highest project ratings, which virtually assures a full funding grant agreement. Once the city receives such an agreement, the feds are obligated to provide whatever funds they promise. The FTA won't approve the agreements until the fall, so there's still hope that someone wises up and nixes the project. Oh, and if Congress is looking for discretionary programs to cut, New Starts would be a good start.
Howard:  Where are the deficit-reducing Republicans when we need them?
Hi Jake, We've have been writing to and talking to Republicans (as well as Democrats).  One Congressional staff person told me that it is difficult for elected officials to criticize others' pet projects---due to a form of Congressional etiquette.  But we're hammering away at data falsification and violation of rules/ law.  Also, the Budget Deficit may lead to cuts in New Starts Funding.  Ideally, political pressure will cause the FTA to reevaluate the Central Subway's justifications.  Ciao, Howard


2.  San Francisco Beautiful and Community Groups File Lawsuit over AT&T Utility Box Installation

Today, our coalition of community groups filed a lawsuit to stop AT&T's installation of 726 U-Verse utility boxes on San Francisco's sidewalks. The lawsuit for an adequate environmental review of AT&T's project was filed by San Francisco Beautiful and co-litigants: San Francisco Tomorrow, Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association, and Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association.

We filed a petition for writ of mandamus to require the City to conduct environmental review for the AT&T project as required by California State Law, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The suit also asks for preliminary injunctive relief to prevent the installation of any utility boxes while the case is pending in court.

"We really don't want to sue, but we are left no choice when the City refuses to uphold its own environmental codes and is about to give away our sidewalks for the benefit of a private company without any objective review. We are confident that an Environmental Impact Report will advance commonsense mitigation methods, such as placing the equipment on private property," said Milo Hanke, past President of San Francisco Beautiful.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors narrowly voted to grant AT&T a categorical exemption to install 726 boxes without an EIR. AT&T aggressively lobbied members of the Board to bypass the requirement to conduct an EIR. Despite several attempts to reach out to AT&T, the coalition of community groups was shut out of the process.


3.  Tuolumne River Trust

We are currently seeking two amazing and passionate people to join our Central Valley team in Modesto, CA in support of our Nature and Neighborhood program in West Modesto and the Airport Neighborhood! 

P/T West Modesto Community Organizer (click here for full job description)

The Tuolumne River Trust is seeking a West Modesto Community Organizer to help promote a more vibrant community with stronger ties to the Tuolumne River and Tuolumne River Regional Park. Riverside communities in Modesto act as gateways to the Tuolumne River for the entire region. The health of the Tuolumne River is thus intimately linked to the strength and vitality of these communities. By working with the communities to improve their neighborhoods, while also working with the communities to link their long-term health with the health of the Tuolumne River, we will engender greater community support for the development of the Tuolumne River Regional Park specifically and improve stewardship of the Tuolumne River in general.

F/T Riverside Communities Activities Coordinator (click here for full job description)

We are expanding our Central Valley Nature and Neighborhood Program, a community-based approach that proposes to increase access and civic engagement opportunities to underserved groups through a combination of family-oriented outdoor programming and community capacity for resident-led neighborhood improvements for riverside communities in Stanislaus County.

This full-time position requires the organization and management of culturally relevant recreational activities that support connecting children at Orville Wright Elementary to both outdoor recreational activities and organized team sports, such as but not limited to the existing Airport Neighborhood Youth Soccer League. 

This is an ideal position for someone who is passionate about improving youth recreation opportunities, fostering mental health through physical activities and outdoor recreation, supporting community/volunteer led sports, protecting rivers and the environment and is interested in helping the Trust bring positive grass roots change to the Airport Neighborhood community.

To apply: Please send you resume, writing sample to Chris Daniels at or for more information call 415-882-7252.

California Native Plant Society field trip - open to all
Pedro Point Headlands
August 28, Sunday, 1 pm - 3 pm
Leaders:  Jake Sigg, Mike Vasey
Cosponsored by Pacifica Land Trust

The unique aggregation of plants at Pedro Point Headlands and Pacifica Land Trust's ongoing stewardship of this dramatic place where Montara Mountain meets the ocean lends interest and excitement to this area to check on the progress of restoration, as former motorcycle trails begin to fade and the native vegetation slowly heals the land.  Here Nootka reedgrass (Calamagrostis nutkaensis) and California fescue (Festuca californica) flourish in association with huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) and a number of other berry-bearing shrubs.  Meet at the Pedro Point Firehouse, 1227 Danmann Avenue, Pacifica.  At Highway 1 and Linda Mar Blvd, turn west onto San Pedro Avenue, then right onto Danmann.

This field trip is preceded by a restoration work party organized by Pacifica Land Trust.  Meet at the Firehouse at 9.45 am; refreshments provided afterward.  We highly recommend hands-on restoration as by far the most fun and effective way to learn native plants and their ecology.  Contact jakesigg(at) for more information.


5.  Feedback

On Aug 22, 2011, at 10:51 PM, Laarry Brown wrote:
Biking home from work this evening, I passed Supe Avalos campaigning in the Panhandle.  I asked him about his support for the Central Subway.  He said it "pained" him each time he voted for it.  Damn.  I like him, but this is BIG.  If he can't resist the powers-that-be on this one ... I pointed out to some other bike commuters that the MTA also funds bike travel improvements, which will disappear into that black hole under Stockton Street.
Thank you very much, Laarry.  This is the kind of pressure that will eventually make them buckle.  The project has 'failure' written all over it.

Emmet McDonough (re Central Subway):
Hi Jake, Make the Stockton Street tunnel more pedestrian friendly. I'm sure that there are designers out there who can do that. The distance from Market Street to Chinatown is short (and not much of an incline for pretty much anyone who lives and has to walk even short distances in SF) - the only people who wouldn't be able to make the walk would be seniors and kids under a certain age (and some of them wouldn't mind the walk). If more people are walking, the buses wouldn't be as packed and slow. Problem solved.

Of course, it's way past the point of that being the solution since all of the political big shots have basically turned it into a mess of you give me this I'll give you that (even if it ends up making it take longer to build and cost more, which is ok in their minds) connected with the state's high speed rail.
Dream on, Emmet.  No, that isn't it.  However, there are other options; there always are.  Obviously it has to be surface transport and that would mean restricting private autos (try riding the 30 Stockton) among others things.  The world is getting crowded; we just need to recognize it.  And money for critical problems is getting scarce--you'd think they would recognize that.

Patrick Schlemmer:
Howard Ensign Evans devotes a whole chapter to them in his book, Wasp Farm (1963). The following is an excerpt:
"There is scarcely a place on the face of the earth more sterile and uninviting than the central part of a sand dune....But visit a sand dune--not in the cool of evening or of winter or spring, but in the hottest part of the day and in the hottest part of the year--and you may find it teeming with a particular insect which, in fact, occurs nowhere else. This is Bembix pruinosa, a stout-bodied wasp brightly patterned with pale yellowish-green markings. At the proper season, one rarely finds a sand dune east of the Rocky Mountains that lacks a thriving colony of these wasps."
Our western species are similar. And the "sand dune" needn't be very large. I see a large population of Bembix wasps at the Coyote Point firing range in San Mateo every summer. The entomologist Charles Hogue reported seeing them in the sand pit at the end of the long jump track at USC!

Kathy Schrenk:
Jake, Thanks so much for your thoughtful support of Hetch Hetchy. Hopefully next summer you can make it out to the dam for the one-day Muir's March!

On Aug 22, 2011, at 8:01 PM, Patrick and Jill wrote:
“Give us back Hetch Hetchy and Glen Canyon, and I’ll go quietly.”
-David Brower, Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run
And things are looking fair to get both back.

For readers who may not know, Brower is referring to Glen Canyon on the Colorado River in Utah, the Place No One Knew.  At the time the decision was made to dam it in the 1950s, very very few people knew it because of its remoteness and difficulty of access--primarily by rafting the river.  Brower and others, desperate to save Dinosaur (-not-yet-National Monument), agreed to the Glen Canyon Dam.  Not long after that they began investigating and realized to their horror what was at stake.  Too late.  Brower was at JFK's side in the Oval Office in 1963, pleading with him to not close the dam gates.  That, of course, would have been political suicide.

The good news is that nature is likely to save it--one of the few good things to come out of a changing climate.  The reservoir is drying up, and the complex byzantine politics of the Colorado River Compact will help to assure that there won't be enough water to keep the turbines moving, much less fill the reservoir.

Ron Maykel:
Hi Jake, Once again, thanks for Nature News.
Amongst other things, I enjoy the dialogue and narratives regarding the Hetch Hetchy issue.
Although I have mixed feelings about the current use of the Hetch Hetchy valley, I am moved in the direction of restoration by the sight of a painting by a Albert Bierstadt called, The Hetch- Hetchy Valley, California. The picture was painted 1874-80. Bierstadt his wife and several friends spent 6 weeks camping in and around the valley.
The then San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser of August 23,1873, reported that Bierstadt had returned "laden with sketches, from a spot which as yet is almost untrodden soil, the Hetch Hetchy Valley, twelve miles from Yosemite,"
I happened to see the original painting in a Hudson River School exhibit at the Cantor Museum. The picture is so exquisite in scope and nature's sublimity that it would be a very useful tool in inspiring people towards restoration.
The painting is, unfortunately, located in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford Connecticut.
As you may know it was also the great American artists of the nineteenth century that inspired the making of many national parks.
If restoration of the Hetch Hetchy is eminent, it might be an opportunity to consider a introduction of the grizzly bear to the area?

Steve Lawrence:
By taking water we harm the riparian ecosystem, which affects the oceans. An argument for restoring HH is that the water would still be available, just stored elsewhere. (No mention where, or at what cost environmentally and financial.) So are we still still taking that water? Or are we restoring the riparian/ocean ecosystem? If we're still taking the water, then why is the affect on the ecosystem part of the argument against HH reservoir?

Replace lost water with recycled and groundwater? 1. That's not going to come remotely close to replacing gallon for gallon; 2. one groundwater program is already under review as potentially infeasible; 3. recycled water is at least three times as expensive; the rate charged for water has already double during the past five years, and the water program, without restoring, is a bit over one-third complete; as one would expect, the modest recycled water being developed is the cheapest / lowest hanging fruit; 4. the groundwater aquifer will be over-drawn--so indicates the latest report on the basin (done not by sfpuc but by someone on northern Peninsula); 5. today staff is to explain to the SFPUC Commission how it proposes to replace water dedicated to fish and other riparian benefits, which dedication came with certifying EIRs; the point is, we're already short water; 6. no US urbanites use less water than San Franciscans do (how low can we go?).

"It's an ongoing crime" idea:  What I would like to know is what affect (sic) is the reservoir having on the flora and fauna of Yosemite. "[T]here is no question it is profoundly destructive to animal and plant life in Yosemite National Park." I'd like to know how. I've been to Restore HH's site. I've not found discussion.
I'll post your response, Steve.  However, there doesn't seem much point of my rebutting your arguments, as your remarks are either confused/confusing or beside the point.  We've been through this before.  There is no way I can change your mind on Hetchy, and you don't understand why I want the Valley back, so we'll just leave it at that.

Linda Shaffer:
Jake, FYI, Philip Levine, the new US Poet Laureate, was for many years a Professor in the English Department at Fresno State University.  This would be the same English Department which played a prominent role during massive anti-war and civil rights protests on the Fresno State campus in the late 60's and early 70's.  A poet in the English department, an untenured colleague of Dr. Levine's, was dismissed by the university administration for statements he made in public that were considered unacceptably controversial; the department protested, which led to more dismissals or threats of dismissal; faculty in other departments became involved in actions centered around issues of academic freedom and freedom of speech in general; the poet's students became involved; anti-war protesters became involved, as did the La Raza movement.....  At one point, things got so bad that the campus police bolted the door to the English department office and confiscated all departmental files.  Writing poetry in the midst of such times must have been, well, interesting.

For those who want to know more about this era, including descriptions of responses to the protests by the university administration and the city of Fresno, find a book entitled "The Slow Death of Fresno State" by Kenneth A. Seib.  When I joined the faculty of the Fresno State Economics Department in 1984, I quickly learned about the feelings of resentment and mistrust harbored by many, still on the faculty, who had been actively involved in the protests.  Even now, the after-effects live on.

ML Carle:
Thanks for the poems. I usually don't read poems anymore, because I don't have the background, patience or brains to decipher them. But these are accessible and rewarding for me.
Ditto.  I was beginning to think I was the only one who didn't understand poetry.  However, I find Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and others posted daily by Joe Riley to be comprehensible.  I print out some of them and keep them by my easy chair to re-visit sporadically.  (See URLs below.)

Panhala is Hindi for "source of fresh water" (more or less). The purpose of this group is to share poems and prose that make the day a little brighter.

"There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." -- Edith Wharton

Web version of archived messages at:
To subscribe to Panhala, send a blank email to:

On Aug 22, 2011, at 7:48 PM, Atta Pilram wrote:
Jake, Last week I discovered San Bruno Mtn hiking trails. It is a great hike with lots of wild flowers. I thought to pass it along. Atta
And this is in late summer!  Imagine what it's like in February, March, April, May.

But then, it's interesting year-round.  Flowers are not the only things going on.

On Aug 24, 2011, at 4:29 PM, Dennis McCormick-Kovacich wrote:
Hi, Jake. I would like to post the line below from your August 6 newsletter on Facebook and would like to give credit where credit is due. Is that your own words or is it quoting someone else?
On Sat, Aug 6, 2011 at 11:31 AM, Jake Sigg wrote:
7.   Our fetish for rampant consumerism urges us to buy goods we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like
Written by Bryan Furnass of Brisbane, Australia

On Aug 24, 2011, at 4:46 PM, Gray Brechin wrote:
Hi Jake, I'm way behind in reading Nature News so someone else may have mentioned this. I have two tube bird feeders here in Berkeley that were so favored by finches and wrens and other songbirds that I had to fill them almost every day. Earlier this summer, I noticed that I didn't have to fill them as often, and now I scarcely have to fill them at all since the birds have largely disappeared. Do you or anyone else know what happened to them?

I will post this as Feedback and perhaps knowledgeable people will supply the answer.

In the meantime I can speculate that possibly a cat moved into the neighborhood?


Help SFPUC choose San Francisco's new street lights - take our short survey.

(The survey asks your opinion of street light designs, but not color or warmth/coldness of the light.  JS)


7.  Environment California

We know plastic bags are terrible for the environment: They pollute our oceans and beaches, harm wildlife, and contribute to the Pacific Garbage Patch — that toxic soup of trash swirling off our coast that's grown to be twice the size of Texas.

So why does California's new environmental curriculum include a section on "The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags"? Because lobbyists for the American Chemistry Council — the same front-group that spent millions to defeat the statewide bag ban last year — convinced school officials to include it.

What’s next? A lesson on the benefits of mercury in our diet?   Keep polluters’ propaganda out of our kids’ textbooks.

According to the article in the Chronicle, parts of the textbook "were inserted almost verbatim from letters written by the chemistry council. The additions included: ‘Plastic shopping bags are very convenient to use. They take less energy to manufacture than paper bags, cost less to transport, and can be reused.’ ”


8.  New Monterey pine book

Monterey Pine Forest Watch has produced an inviting and readable book, Coastal California's Living Legacy:  The Monterey Pine Forest.  The book has it all:  the biology and history of this iconic pine, its genetics, the impacts of human settlement on its habitat, proposals for conservation, maps and trails suitable for explorations in all of the native stands, lists of the flora and fauna that thrive in the pine forest, and a wealth of spectacular photos showing the pines in many different lights.

Hey Mr Green,
I recently read that there are more trees now in the United States than ever before.  Is this true?  Betsey in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

People propagating such claims should be plopped down in the woods to do a tree census, barefoot, sans GPS or ATV.

Today, the total forest cover in the United States is only about 70% of what it was before European colonization: 746 million acres, down from 1.04 billion, according to the U.S. Forest Service.  Species such as the American elm and chestnut have been decimated by imported diseases.

In any case, simple numbers are somewhat irrelevant because what matters most is the quality of forest.  Some of what are called "forests" are just timber plantations bereft of biological diversity or second-growth groves whose habitats are diminished or open to intense logging practices.

Also, many forested lands are now fragmented, which reduces accessible woodland habitats, making it harder for wildlife to thrive.  To remain healthy, forests need to be buffered by protected or undeveloped land.  To learn more, or to get involved, read the Sierra Club report America's Great Outdoors at

One bit of good news:  Forest cover has declined by only 1.5% in the past century, thanks to government rules, improved stewardship, and the reversion of marginal farmland to forest.  We have also greatly expanded our forest reserves in parks and wilderness areas.

But here's the bottom line:  A whopping 93% of U.S. forestland isn't permanently protected by federal law.

Ask Mr Green in Sierra, September-October 2011


10.  From a reader:
KDFC, the local SF radio station which used to be at at 102.1 FM, and which used to be a commercial station broadcasting classical music interspersed with advertising (thus creating an outcome that was worse than having no classical music station at all in SF), has combined with KUSF and gone listener supported!  No more ads!  No more time restrictions causing them to air single movements of quartets!  They can actually play the whole quartet!  Hell, they can play an entire Mahler symphony!

They are now at 89.9/90.3 on the FM dial.  I get it quite well at 90.3 on my car radio, though not in the house (I'd need to hook an FM antenna to my tuner).  But the station can also be streamed through its website.  For those with a Mac and iTunes, it's listed under Radio.  Just double-click on KDFC, and enjoy!  For PC users with a high speed connection, I should think it's easy to just click on something at the website.  :-)

The station claims to have quite a range extending as far as Ukiah to the north, so I should think you could get it on radio.

The only people who will be unhappy about this are the lovely folks at KXPR (Capital Public Radio) in Sacramento.  I have been streaming their station via my Mac since moving to SF 5 years ago, and have sent a generous contribution each year in support of my lifeline to classical music programming on public radio. 


Seek patience
and passion
in equal amounts.
Patience alone
will not build the temple.
Passion alone
will destroy its walls.
~ Maya Angelou ~

(Life Mosaic)

Nature has no mercy at all.  Nature says, "I'm going to snow.  If you have on a bikini and no snowshoes, that's tough.  I am going to snow anyway."  Maya Angelou

No comments:

Post a Comment