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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


1.   Environmental impacts of proposed industrial desalination for water supply
2.   Public comments affect Highway 1 widening in Pacifica
3.   Family bird count in the Presidio April 1
4.   The Natural History of Daly City Dunes, April 2
5.   Greg Gaar undergoes heart surgery
6.   The Almanac of Last Things by Linda Pastan
7.   LTE:  Hetch Hetchy debate is misunderstood
8.   Oliver Wendell Holmes on the SHARP debate
9.   The human heart is the first home of democracy
10. A Word for Joy by Franz Wright
11.  The Future of Food can be seen online
12.  Feedback:  How creativity works/eagle spotted in San Francisco?
13.  Converting a lawn to native plant garden/native plant gardening for year-round interest
14.  Cameroon elephant massacre/Health Care reform on trial

There are two kinds of light -- the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures. -James Thurber


The Sierra Club will host a public forum on March 31, 2012, in Oakland, to discuss and debate  potential environmental impacts of a multi-water agency proposal to build a desalination facility on the San Francisco Bay.

The proposed facility would provide Bay Area residents with tens of millions of gallons per day of drinking water, by using an industrial process to remove salt from brackish waters in the estuary where the Sacramento Delta meets the Bay.

The Sierra Club event, “Should a Bay Area Regional Desalination Project be an Option for Our Water Supply?” will begin at 9 am at the CSU East Bay Oakland Conference Center, 1000 Broadway, in downtown Oakland, and is free to the public. Presenters include Bay Area water agency staff, and environmental water experts (including desalination opponents) from Food & Water Watch, Pacific Institute, Post Carbon Institute, Hopkins Marine Station, and Desal Response Group.

Desalination can impact wildlife habitat and endangered species. It produces a toxic brine as a waste product, entraps aquatic animals, and its energy intensive process can result in higher greenhouse gas emissions than those produced through more traditional water delivery techniques.

Over the past eight years, five Bay Area water agencies have studied the possibility of building an industrial desalination plant on the San Francisco Bay near the city of Pittsburg. The agencies recently completed a small pilot desalination project that tested the feasibility of the proposal, which has been dubbed the Bay Area Regional Desalination Project. Agencies preparing the desalination plans are the Contra Costa Water District, East Bay Municipal Utility District, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Santa Clara Valley Water District and the Zone 7 Water Agency.

Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter Water Committee co-chair Sonia Diermayer said of the Club event, “Bay Area agencies have completed eight years of feasibility and pilot studies to explore the potential for desalinating millions of gallons of water per day, drawn from our fragile Bay and Delta aquatic habitats. We consider it to be of paramount importance to begin educating the public about this proposal, and jumpstarting a vigorous discussion about whether or not such a desalination plant should be built.”

For more information about the Sierra Club forum, see the event web site at

For water agency information on the project, go to

For the Food & Water Watch report on the potential serious environmental and economic impacts of desalination entitled “Desalination: An Ocean of Problems” see


2.  Public Comments Affect Highway 1 Widening, By Bill Collins
The proposed widening of Highway 1 generated so much controversy in Pacifica and environs that the project’s EIR will be delayed while the 213 comments from the public can be considered. That moves the release of the EIR from June back four months to October. As the transportation staff says, this downgrades the Calera project from a "green" for "on time" to yellow, for "delayed."

Will the alternatives suggested by the public be evaluated, studied and given an estimated cost so the most cost-effective option(s) can be known?  Before over $50+ million in sales tax revenue, (not gas tax) is spent on a controversial, costly and unsustainable “solution,” all the options must be considered and compared.

The following suggestions may not all be equally cost-effective, but we’ll never know until they’re studied. They came from citizens, wary of the widening, who participated in the several public meetings:

1.  Facilitate carpooling. Most cars have just one occupant.
2.  Add a flex lane in the middle, NB in the morning, moved to SB in the afternoon.
3.  Time the intersection lights to reduce stops. There's no back-ups where Highway 1 is two lanes and without stoplights.
4.  Adjust the school schedule. This is a school day problem only.
5.  Provide vans for school kids (without each parent driving their own kid).
6.  School(s) could coordinate parents driving other nearby kids to and from school.
7.   Study putting an underpass at the intersection to obviate the stoplights.
8.   Institute more frequent bus service with benches and shelters at each stop. You shouldn’t have to drive to get around in Pacifica.
9.   Provide vans to major commuter destinations.
10. Limit turns onto Highway 1 to allow North/South traffic to flow with fewer stops during peak commute times.
11.  Meter the flow of traffic entering Highway 1.

Some of these options may be effective in conjunction with others. Even if Highway 1 were to be widened, car-pooling makes sense. But the transportation bureaucrats have already decided what option they prefer (Clue: it's the one that allows them to let big contracts to the road builders). They've stubbornly refused to study the alternatives, ignoring the public's suggestions and declaring the only options to be “widen or do nothing.”  While some people may not be able to envision other ways of getting around, most aren’t so easily misled.

Those who don’t/can’t drive deserve better transportation. They also pay the sales tax that funds the Transportation Authority, whose staff is eager to fund the widening. Pacifica has a two-tier transportation “system,” one for motorists, and poor options for the rest.

Each of the alternatives is probably less costly, less harmful to neighborhoods and the environment, and offer sustainable traffic relief sooner than the widening (slated for completion in 2016, but probably even later now).  Sustainable because the TA staff admits that someday even the wider Highway 1 would become congested. Then what - another round of widening! Remember when Highway 1 was just two lanes? 

We'll never know what's the most cost-effective use of tax monies until all the options get equal study, so they can be compared.  Incredibly, that hasn’t happened.

Why do those who purport to care about traffic congestion advocate only the widening, which offers no traffic relief for another 5 years, at best?


3.  Family Bird Count in the Presidio!
Sunday, April 1st, 10 am to 2 pm
Meet at El Polín Spring

Did you know that the Presidio is a birding hotspot in the Bay Area? After a short "binocular bootcamp and birding basics" kids (ages 6 and up) and their families will join experienced birders in teams on different routes throughout the Presidio. After an easy 2 hour walk counting observed bird life, groups will return to El Polín Spring to tally their numbers during lunch. The day be topped off with presentations of the day’s numbers by…kids!

Lunch will not be provided, so we recommend bringing a paper-bag lunch and snacks as needed. Please remember to dress in layers and bring water. Binoculars are not required, but recommended if you have them (a supply of binoculars will be available to borrow for the day).
Because space is limited for this event, please RSVP to Alisha Cahlan at: or 415-561-2730.

A free event co-sponsored by the Presidio Trust and Golden Gate Audubon


The Natural History of the Daly City Dunes
Talk and Slide Show Presentation by Joe Cannon
Restoration Biologist, San Bruno Mountain Watch
Monday April 2, 2012, 7:00pm


The Daly City Dunes, on the western slope of San Bruno Mountain, are threatened by a development proposal. This inland dune system has a diverse and unique plant community - including rare and endangered species - and is the only location outside of the Presidio where you can find the rare San Francisco Lessingia germanorum - protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act since 1997.

San Bruno Mountain Watch believes that this open space and its rare ecosystem are worthy of saving from development.  Joe Cannon is a restoration biologist with SBMW and has previously worked on restoration projects in the Presidio with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.  Joe will share his knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the history and ecology of the Daly City Dunes, and help you to understand the importance of saving this natural resource.

Please visit our website for complete information about the Daly City Dunes and our efforts to save them.

Teglia Center
285 Abbot Ave (at East Moltke)
Daly City

Lessingia germanorum


5.  Greg Gaar

Hi Jake-My heart surgery is scheduled for Thursday March 29. Replacing one heart valve with a mechanical valve is the goal.

I will be at Kaiser for a week and then 6-8 weeks of recovery at home. Nobody is replacing me at the nursery though some volunteers will help when they can.

The main concern is watering and weeding the potted plants. The gardens are pretty sustainable though erharta is a nagging problem.

Linda and I will be at Hazelwood for the garden tour but I don't know what my condition will be on April 15.

This is going to be a unique experience.  Greg

JS:  Many readers of this newsletter are familiar with Greg Gaar and his innumerable contributions to San Francisco and to a healthy world environment.  He has gone his own way in life, and the world is better for it.  He was among the pioneers with the innovating Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) which, among other things, instituted recycling in San Francisco in the 1970s, and funded many, many community projects.  His historic slide collection is famous and celebrated, and he has educated and entertained thousands of people with it.  His production of native San Francisco plants at the HANC nursery is a signal contribution to those who want to invite wildlife into the city.

He is deeply devoted to the causes he has worked so long and hard for.  We will be without him for a few weeks. 

I will forward any messages from those who don't have his contact information.


The Almanac of Last Things

From the almanac of last things
I choose the spider lily
for the grace of its brief
blossom, though I myself
fear brevity,

but I choose The Song of Songs
because the flesh
of those pomegranates
has survived
all the frost of dogma.

I choose January with its chill
lessons of patience and despair--and
August, too sun-struck for lessons.
I choose a thimbleful of red wine
to make my heart race,

then another to help me
sleep. From the almanac
of last things I choose you,
as I have done before.
And I choose evening

because the light clinging
to the window
is at its most reflective
just as it is ready
to go out.

~ Linda Pastan ~

(Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998)


7.  LTE, San Francisco Examiner

Hetch Hetchy debate is misunderstood

John F. Schambre's letter about the effort to Restore Hetch Hetchy illustrates the rampant public misunderstanding about the goals of the movement and the November ballot initiative.  RHH is not proposing to get rid of San Francisco's source of pristine Sierra water in Hetch Hetchy reservoir.  That water source is from the Tuolumne River watershed and only Mother Nature can take that away.

What RHH and its supporters would like to see is for San Francisco to store its water elsewhere and rehabilitate the precious natural treasure that was Hetch Hetchy Valley.  RHH's proposal isn't about tearing down the dam, which some local elected officials latch onto incorrectly in their attempt to quash this sensible move toward sustainable, 21st century conservation practices.  They can't see the forest for the trees.

Restoring Hetch Hetchy would not only help revive salmon populations devastated by mega-dams, but return to San Franciscans, Californians and the nation a rich, lush habitat, whose flora, fauna, waterfalls, rivers and forests would counteract climate change, reduce our carbon footprint and bring back to Yosemite National Park a critical part that never should have been desecrated in the first place.

Lori Higa
San Francisco

On Mar 26, 2012, at 9:09 PM, Robert Laws wrote (regarding meeting at SHARP on tree-cutting on Mt Sutro and elsewhere):
Dear Jake,  I was so aghast at this evening's display of ignorance and mendacity that I forgot to observe one of my guiding principles in life.  It's from Oliver Wendell  Holmes's Autocrat of the Breakfast Table:
 ... the hydrostatic paradox of controversy. Don't you know what that means? Well, I will tell you. You know that, if you had a bent tube, one arm of which was of the size of a pipe-stem, and the other big enough to hold the ocean, water would stand at the same height in one as in the other. Controversy equalizes fools and wise men in the same way. And the fools know it.  
Bob:  Yes, engaging in this kind of effort is educational, isn't it?  Contemplating human nature as Holmes did is painful and we would dearly like to have a better opinion of ourselves.  But truths of this sort must be faced and taken into account when making arrangements, whether in governance or a community project.  So many idealized schemes are never realized because not taking into account this basic reality.

Having said that, I did a poor job of organizing and presenting my thoughts.  I tried, as usual, to cover too much ground.  All professionals advise "Simplify, Simplify".  My tendency is to go into the complexities, and I need to curb that.  After all, humans can absorb only so much in 20 minutes, especially on a subject with which they're not familiar.

The ignorance and ill will of the Forest Alliance was on full view for anyone caring to look.  The cherry-picking of facts, the distortions and outright lies were transparent, I thought.  But best not to assume other people necessarily will see it that way--read Holmes' quote again.  A few people tittered when he ridiculed the Natural Areas Program; possibly they were partisans.

P.S.  I found it hard to assess whether I made any headway with the audience.  The guy behind you who dredged up that old complaint--that the off-leash people have repeated so many times they have actually come to believe it--that the Natural Areas Program is "fencing off" parts of their parks.  Citing the string-defined area of new plantings atop Grandview Park as "fencing off" was discouraging.  It underlines the lack of substance of Natural Areas Program opponents' complaints.  Is he against planting, especially ground that was bare?  If he wanted to disrespect the planted area he could step over the string, which was 8 inches off the ground.  Petty stuff.  Probably just another off-leash advocate trying to discredit the Program.

Men shout to avoid listening to one another. -Miguel de Unamuno, writer and philosopher (1864-1936)

"Even if our political leaders cannot read the pulse of a changing world, the people do."  Terry Tempest Williams

"The open space of democracy is interested in circular, not linear, power - power reserved not for an entitled few, but shared by many."
        Terry Tempest Williams

From Colorado Plateau Advocate, Summer 2004
[Terry Tempest Williams] to dig more deeply into the notion that the human heart is the first home of democracy.  It struck me at the time that the American people have always made erratic progress toward a more just society by consistently telling themselves a hopeful story about a humane and reasonable America, no matter how inconsistent such a tale might be with the facts. 

A small group of landed aristocrats established a republic built on the enslavement and murder of untold numbers of Africans and Native Americans and in which women could not vote.  We told ourselves that it was a beacon of the rights of man.  But that story and that ideal infected us and eventually slavery was abolished, women got the vote, and America really did become an imperfect but earnest model for the rest of the world.  In time, our idealism even extended to the environment as we set aside national parks and wilderness and established protections for our air and water and fellow creatures.....

What concerns me today is that many of our leaders are no longer telling a hopeful story about America.  Instead, we are told that we are too threatened to continue to enjoy all our freedoms.  We cannot afford to help those less fortunate or to worry too much about the future.  Public involvement in government decisions must be “streamlined” out of existence.  And concern for “luxuries,” such as a healthy environment, is a million miles down on the priority list.  Considering how important our hopeful stories have been on the way toward a better society, I shudder to think what kind of future these men are creating by sacrificing all to the notion of mean-spirited efficiency.

Along these lines, we got a letter at the Trust recently from a schoolteacher who was chagrined that we have filed suit to protect the few remaining humpback chub in the Grand Canyon.  The letter said, “Are you guys seriously trying to save those lame fish?  It’s evolution.  Get a life!”

These days, when I think of lame creatures like the perfectly adapted, three million year old humpback chub, I think of the movie Apollo 13.  Recall the scene when Ed Harris, playing Flight Director Gene Krantz, summons his ground crew around a table on which are piled all the materials the marooned astronauts have on board their spaceship and instructs them to design a carbon dioxide scrubber before the crew is asphyxiated.  That’s us on our spaceship earth, and casually throwing away our fellow creatures is not only morally outrageous, it is as reckless and unintelligent as if the astronauts had thrown away the duct tape before considering what use it might have.

We have been given a world beautiful and complex far beyond our capacity to imagine, and as if to underscore the one-time nature of this gift it is unimaginably far to the next habitable planet, if such a thing even exists.  We have everything we need on board to make this a paradise, but we waste things at our mortal peril.  That is why storytellers like Terry Tempest Williams are so essential.  She reminds us of what life on this gorgeous world, among remarkable fellow travelers, can and should be all about.  I thank all of you for your companionship on the journey. 

Bill Hedden, Executive Director, Grand Canyon Trust



A Word For Joy

I am happy among children's eyes
I am very worried and happy
among the crazy and the hopeless
they recognize me, right away
I'm home
And there is nowhere I would rather be
alive or dead
than in this world
Inside this skull I hold and ponder
unending space expanding if I understand correctly
at an accelerating rate, meanwhile
housing perpetual births and disappearances of its numberless
deafening nuclear furnaces unheard,
I consider the voices, identically soundless, in every
mind, behind each face I pass
and as I've been instructed each morning
on rising I obliterate the print of my body
and am glad (the wind is blowing, it is written, adore
the wind)
and am speechlessly grateful and glad and afraid
I don't mind saying that I am scared
to death of God: I am
afraid and blind and ignorant and naked and
I'll take it!
I have been happy here
among all the suffering eyes: why they were brought here
and exactly what it was they were expected
to take a good close look at,
I can't grasp it, but I am so very glad.

~ Franz Wright ~

(God's Silence)


11.  Carol Teltschick-Fall:

Hi Jake,
Belated thanks for bringing The Future of Food" to my attention. You posted a notice about a public screening in Feb ("What Bill Gates gets wrong on genetic engineering/Future of Food ). By the time I was able to follow up, the screening was long past, but I found a link to watch the film online. Here it is in case you want to watch/share:

Once plants and animals were raised together on the same farm -- which therefore neither produced unmanageable surpluses of manure, to be wasted and to pollute the water supply, nor depended on such quantities of commercial fertilizer. The genius of American farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it neatly into two problems. -Wendell Berry, farmer and author (b. 1934)

Now I can look at you in peace; I don't eat you any more. -Franz Kafka, novelist (1883-1924) [while admiring fish in an aquarium]


12,  Feedback

Alane Bowling:
Jake, thank you for The Economist's review of Imagine: How Creativity Works. For anyone who would like to live more creatively, I highly recommend Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way; it's a creativity course in the form of a book. And, as always, thank you for the quotations and poetry. You make my day. Alane

Patrick Skain (Re Eagles Reappear):
Good Day Jake:  Believe It or Not. Last Tuesday evening (3/20) about 6:15PM, my wife and I were driving south on State Highway 35, and we saw a large bird with a distinctive white head fly easterly across the roadway. This was just past the intersection where the Great Highway merges into Highway 35. It seemed to be flying towards the south side of Lake Merced and John Muir Drive. Quite a sight. We thought it must have escaped from the Zoo. Who knows? Perhaps there's a few more around. We'll keep looking. Thanks, Pat.


Converting A Lawn To A Native Plant Garden
Wednesday, 03/28/12 at 7:00 pm
Library: Millbrae
Make your garden sustainable and “green” in every sense of the word by planting California native plants. Save water, save energy, and save money.

Native Plant Gardening for Year-Round Interest
Tuesday, 04/03/12 at 7:00 pm
Library: Brisbane

EXTINCTION COUNTDOWN: Cameroon Elephant Massacre Shows Poaching, Ivory Trade Require an International Response

NEWS: Health Care Reform on Trial: What's at Stake in the Upcoming Supreme Court Arguments
Hearings on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act begin on March 26. The law has yet to take full force, and key aspects, health experts argue, remain fundamentally misunderstood by the public

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