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April 2011

Paul Donahue: Shorebirds @ Rockaway Headlands

Black oystercatcher, one of a nesting pair. I haven't found any evidence of eggs or chicks yet this year.

Western gull swallowing an ochre sea star. For reasons I don't understand, this is a popular food item in this area.

Wandering tattler. I'm reasonably sure that this is one of the two birds that wintered in the area. It's now come into breeding plumage and will most likely be departing for Alaska within the week.

Underwater Parks Celebrate First Anniversary

May 1 was the anniversary of the Northern California Marine Protected Areas that stretch from Alder Creek in Mendocino to Pigeon Point in San Mateo County. One year ago, this system of undersea parks was created to protect treasured coastal areas such as Bodega Head, Point Reyes, Fitzgerald, and the Farallon Islands. It connects with a network of protected areas along the central coast, and will eventually form part of the statewide system called for in the Marine Life Protection Act.

California’s marine protected areas act as sanctuaries for marine plants and animals, but they also give visitors a chance to learn about sea life, and function like living laboratories where scientists can study the impacts of different activities on ocean systems. Coastal residents helped to design the north central coast's marine protected areas, and they continue to play a hands-on role in their management, helping to staff citizen science programs, educate the public about new rules, and keep their eyes on the water. Right now, government and community groups are working together to gather information the state can use to assess the effectiveness of the new protected areas. Here are three cool collaborative efforts:

I hope you will help to celebrate this milestone and raise awareness about these programs as well as the marine protected areas themselves, which are great places to dive, tidepool, kayak, and watch birds and other wildlife. 

Nicole Lampe
Resource Media

Thieves Target Lucrative Fast-Food Grease

OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) – Rises in fuel prices have led to an increase in the number of used fryer grease rustlers roaming restaurant alleys in the United States. Grease thefts have spiked whenever fuel prices climbed during the last four years and this spring is no different, according to Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association. "It's on the rise and it's because of higher oil prices," Cook told Reuters in a telephone interview. "I have one member who told me it's costing his business $1 million a year." Recyclers typically contract with restaurants to pick up the waste product. The grease is cleaned and sold for use as biofuel, livestock feed and other products.

An Omaha recycler has filed theft reports with police in Omaha and Lincoln in Nebraska, and Sioux City, Iowa. Thieves recently stole about 4,200 pounds (1,909 kgs) of used grease from six Lincoln fast-food restaurants. Processed fryer oil is not trash. It is called yellow grease and is traded. Its value is driven by higher prices of gas and ethanol. Recyclers and collectors pay restaurants about 18 cents a pound for grease. After further processing, it can be sold for 42 to 45 cents a pound, said Cook, who is based in Alexandria, Virginia. Yellow grease was trading for less than 8 cents a pound in 2000. Cook said he plans to conduct an industrywide survey to determine the extent of the losses.

Many restaurant owners don't realize what they are losing and local law enforcement agencies have other crime-fighting priorities, he said. One way to curb demand for stolen grease is to alert potential buyers, especially in the feed industry, to only buy from known sources to ensure the product they receive is free of impurities and moisture, Cook said. "The price (of yellow grease) is real good right now," he said, "and those who steal it are really getting a good deal because they're not paying for it."

Poetry Night @ Florey's Books, Last Saturdays

Florey's Books invites you to its poetry series on the last Saturday of each month from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Each evening has featured poets, as well as an open-mic period. Sign up for open-mic from 7 to 7:30 p.m. Florey's is at Palmetto and Hilton, across from Pacifica Library in Sharp Park.

Enviros Sue County to Block Big Wave Project

Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) has filed suit in San Mateo Superior Court against San Mateo County in an effort to prevent the controversial Big Wave Project from moving forward. Big Wave proposes to build 225,000 square feet of office and commercial space, plus housing for 50 developmentally disabled adults and 20 caregivers in a Tsunami Hazard Area next to the environmentally sensitive Pillar Point Marsh in Moss Beach.

“The Board of Supervisors ignored basic common sense in granting approval for this project,” says Lennie Roberts, CGF legislative advocate. “This project threatens our waterways and puts dozens of our most vulnerable residents at risk. Turning a blind eye to the many real dangers associated with the Big Wave Project will not make them go away.”

Big Wave is the largest development San Mateo County has ever approved on the coast. It would nearly double office and commercial space between Pacifica and Santa Cruz. The 46-foot-high office park buildings would loom over single-story homes, farmed fields, and preserved open space.  

“California’s strict environmental review laws are in place for a reason,” says attorney Winter King of the law firm Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, which represents CGF in the lawsuit. “The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors overstepped its bounds when it approved this project despite gaping holes in the environmental impact report. How will the project dispose of its sewage? What will the residential facility actually look like? These fundamental questions were never answered.”

The project is within the mapped Tsunami Hazard Area, which was evacuated in the wake of the Japanese earthquake on March 11. The Board of Supervisors approved the project on March 29. The proposed building site is next to an active earthquake fault, and is on sandy soils that are highly susceptible to violent shaking, liquefaction, and other earthquake hazards. San Mateo County is potentially vulnerable to a large tsunami event that could be spawned by a major underwater earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which stretches from Cape Mendocino to Vancouver Island.  

“As the parent of a developmentally disabled daughter, I fully sympathize with the need for expanded housing for developmentally disabled adults in the county, but this is clearly not a suitable location,” says Lennie Roberts. “Placing these individuals in mortal danger is not a reasonable solution to the County’s housing challenges.”

The environmentally sensitive Pillar Point Marsh, home to a wide diversity of species, including the California red-legged frog, could also be affected by the project. The project’s stormwater drainage and wastewater disposal systems are inadequate. Pollution from stormwater runoff and possible sewage overflows would severely impact the marsh.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the state Division of Aeronautics, and the San Mateo County Department of Public Works also have objected to the project. The county is at risk of losing federal funding for airport improvements due to fundamental incompatibility of the proposed housing in such close proximity to the airport.

Approval of Big Wave has already been appealed to the California Coastal Commission by CGF in partnership with the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club, San Mateo Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Pillar Ridge Homeowners Association, and San Mateo County League for Coastside Protection. Two additional appeals also were filed with the commission by the Granada Sanitary District and by the commission itself. The commission has the authority to amend the approved project or prevent it from moving forward.

The Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) has been working to prevent unwise or poorly located development throughout the Peninsula since 1962, when it was founded by a handful of citizens and activists to save Peninsula foothills from sprawling development. The organization’s mission is to protect and preserve the hills, forests, creeks, wetlands, and coastal lands of the Peninsula through grassroots education, planning, and legislative advocacy. CGF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP (SMW) specializes in government, land use, natural resource, and environmental law. Since 1980, the firm has provided representation to public agencies and community groups throughout California. Known for its commitment to promoting environmental and community values, SMW is at the forefront of major land use and development issues facing California today.

Greywater Recycling Classes @ Urban Farmer

This is a program to train people to install their own greywater systems that use laundry wastewater to irrigate their gardens. The program will pay for much of the material expense and the training itself is free. They are looking for volunteers; if you are interested, contact Jeff Parker at
The following is a blog we wrote about the program: Rags to Riches --This is hopefully the first installment of a rags to riches story: how discarded water from your laundry (that’s the rags part) can turn into edible riches. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is launching a new Laundry to Landscape pilot program, the object of which is to install greywater systems that utilize laundry wastewater for irrigating landscaping, thus reducing water and sewer use. The program is aimed at single and duplex home owners, and includes a short training class and subsidized sale of the necessary piping equipment.

For those not familiar with greywater systems, they involve the use of wastewater from bathroom sinks, showers, bathtubs and laundries to irrigate landscaping (and in some cases for toilet flushing). Wastewater from toilets, utility sinks and kitchen sinks are not included, as they contain much more bacterial and chemical components and need more sophisticated treatment. Bathroom sinks, laundries, showers and tubs, given the use of appropriate cleansers, are considered safe for use in landscaping, as long as some basic precautions are taken with how the water is distributed. The state has even legalized ‘simple’ systems, involving water from a laundry, without needing a permit. More complex systems are also possible. Check out the Greywater Alliance or Greywater Action for general information.

The program is being run by the Urban Farmer Store of San Francisco, and they are looking for 150 volunteers for the pilot. The benefits include a $95 subsidy on parts and training by experts. This will cover most of the costs for many people. We intend to irrigate edible plants -- a small fruit orchard and blueberry bushes – with our system. It may take a few years for things to mature (growing edible plants in San Francisco’s climate is always a challenge!), but we have hopes for a cornucopia.
Robert and Christine Boles
Beausoleil Architects
745 Faxon Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112

Oceana's Great Blue Heron Hunts Gophers

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron (1)

Great Blue Heron (2)

Around Oceana High School, a great blue heron stalks, catches, and eats gophers. I tried to capture the drama with my trusty Blackberry, but I couldn't get close enough for a good shot. So I put out a call for help, and Lee A. Haynes sent me his jpegs (above) and his Flickr photo stream, including the heron and several nice surf shots (click link below).



Mike Vasey Receives Open Space Hero Award

Noel Blincoe writes: "Mike Vasey is an outstanding selection for this year's Open Space Preservation Award. It's amazing how much he has contributed to the community and the environment." Here is a draft of the proclamation that Mayor Mary Ann Nihart read at City Council on April 25:
The annual Open Space Preservation Award is granted in recognition of individuals and/or organizations that have made an outstanding contribution toward the preservation of open space in the City of Pacifica.


Opinion: Chamber of Commerce & Sharp Park Golf


The March 26, 2011, letter to Pacifica City Council from the Chamber of Commerce makes several weak claims in support of the Sharp Park Golf Course. It claims Sharp Park as “the southern anchor of Palmetto” and “the gateway to Mori Point.” Most off-base is the call to “support San Francisco in maintaining a regulation sized course.” The most recent statements from San Francisco make no claim to a regulation-size course; they only mention that habitat enhancements and golf could be compatible. These claims illustrate a disconnect between the Chamber of Commerce, the issues at Sharp Park, and an informed perspective on the future of Pacifica.

The claim that the golf course is the “southern anchor of Palmetto” is fantasy. If you follow Palmetto to its southern end, you will walk directly into a fence. The golf course stands between Mori Point and Palmetto Avenue. On any sunny day there is a steady flow of hundreds of people at a given time on the trail to Mori Point. Meanwhile, by design, golf directs patrons back to the clubhouse to get in their cars, conveniently get back on the highway, and drive home. Few patrons even need to drive on Palmetto from Sharp Park’s clubhouse. Sharp Park Golf Course has had nearly 80 years to prove its mettle in our economy, and Pacifica is still in dire financial straits. Golf is obviously not the economic driving force the chamber dreams it will be; it’s more of the same.

The chamber claims reduction of the golf course would cause undeniable economic hardship in Pacifica. Let’s look at the numbers. In the SFRPD Golf report, 37,905 rounds were played at Sharp Park in 2009-2010. That’s a maximum of 37,905 visits over the course of the year, provided no one played more than one round in a day. Compare this to the National Parks Conservation Association study looking at the economic impact of visitor spending in California’s national parks. Two parks comparable to Mori Point—Pinnacles and Point Reyes—generated 178,000 and 2.2 million visitors, respectively, in a year. At the smallest national park, traffic was almost five times greater than Sharp Park Golf Course patronage. Point Reyes visitor traffic outnumbers Sharp Park golf rounds almost 60 to 1! Total visitor spending at Pinnacles was $3.2 million in a year compared to Sharp Park losing $117,173 last year. Point Reyes visitors spent more than $83 million, supporting 2,000 local jobs. Even the smallest park visitation numbers would vastly increase the tourism engine in Pacifica compared to golf.

Pacifica has an element neither Point Reyes nor Pinnacles has: easy access to San Francisco. In Leon Younger’s 2004 SFRPD report, “Walking and Hiking Trails” were rated as SF’s most desired recreation, compared with golf (ranked 16 of 19). That said, would it not be better to invest in an in-demand market and redirect the hundreds of people on foot to the Palmetto shops and restaurants to truly anchor Palmetto as the gateway to Mori Point? How much would those businesses stand to make if hundreds more people walked in front of them instead of driving by?

The demands of the chamber show how out of touch it is with the issues at Sharp Park. On February 23, San Francisco called to end further armoring of the seawall, without ruling out that golf could be maintained. This leads to the troubling realization that the ocean side of Sharp Park Golf Course needs a significant infusion of cash to maintain a regulation-size course that will likely not come from San Francisco, as it has abandoned armoring the levee. This leaves major questions as to whether Pacifica will front the high costs, cutting the budget elsewhere, or court an investor thus privatizing the “gateway to Mori Point” and leaving our beloved Salada Beach as private property. That is, if there is any beach left, as armoring the seawall would lead to erosion and eventual loss of a community asset. These outcomes are not in the greater interest of Pacifica and would leave a legacy of folly.

The businesses represented by the Chamber of Commerce should seriously consider the costly implications and legacy of maintaining a regulation-size course at Sharp Park. Is it time to investigate new options for Pacifica’s future or stick to 80 years of financial struggle? An enhanced public park at Sharp Park might be the economic engine Pacifica needs.

John Cleese: Threat Alert Levels in Europe 2011

The  English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Libya and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have  been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The  last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They  don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years. 

The French government  announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective  Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be  alright, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!" and "The barbie is  canceled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final  escalation level.

(John Cleese, British writer, actor, and tall person)