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February 2013

January 2013

Opinion: Happiness Is a Warm Gun?

This is about my love/hate relationship with guns. As a young man, I was lucky to have an uncle who taught me how to shoot. I learned a little gun safety but never quite got the hang of gun cleaning. On our so-called hunting trips to the rocky dry wash near my hometown of Redlands, California, we toted a high-powered 30-06 hunting rifle, a single-barreled shotgun, a .45 automatic, and a Colt revolver. Mostly, I shot at old beer cans and pop bottles. My uncle took aim at a cave mouth and fired into it, but nothing was stirring, not even a mouse. We were supposed to be hunting for jackrabbits, but I never wanted to see any animal, let alone shoot one. 

Other than skeet shooting at clay pigeons during summer camp, I haven’t handled a gun since. Yet I still remember the look and feel of those firearms I carried in San Timoteo Canyon. I admired the workmanship and incredible firepower of my uncle’s weapons. I learned not to be afraid of them, even though I have no use for them in my life now.
 
I acknowledge that guns have a seductive appeal: the blue steel, the hefty pistol grip, the smooth rifle stock on my cheek, the smell of gun oil, the metallic snick of cocking a trigger and chambering a round, the unique sound of spinning a cylinder loaded with bullets, the gut-wrenching sensation of pumping a shell into the firing chamber of a shotgun, and finally the thump of ammunition exploding and the gun’s recoil smacking against my shoulder.
 
Guns are not inherently evil, just evil-utionary. Ever since Cain slew Abel, people have been looking for bigger and badder ways to kill each other and kill other species. Sticks and stones and guns. Let’s face it: Violence is in our nature. We are violent predators, the top of the food chain. But guns themselves are not to blame. They are simply a product of our violent imaginations.
 
Of course, we still need to regulate guns, because they are dangerous weapons, even in the right hands (military, law enforcement, hunters, sportsmen). But more important, we need to take responsibility for our own inherent evil as a species. Whether we kill for pleasure, profit, or patriotism, it’s all the same, really.
 
So we can and should regulate guns, but what are we going to do about our violent human nature? Obviously, we can’t regulate human nature. All previous attempts to do so have failed miserably, and have produced even worse (unintended) consequences. Think about it: holy wars, occupations, torture, brainwashing, all done in the name of “regulating” other people. None of them really work in the long run.
 
Instead, we need to focus on the root causes of violence. Massacres, from Columbine to Sandy Hook, were made possible by the ready availability of assault weapons. That has to change. But we know that guns are only part of the problem. We also need to understand the role of our violence-saturated media (including video games), our warlike nationalism, our lack of an effective mental health safety net, our self-centered value system, our materialistic culture, our weak economy, our angry and paranoid society.
 
Instead of armed guards in our schools, we need teachers and counselors armed with the most advanced “weapons” of understanding and coping with alienation. We need to teach nonviolence and communication as ways of dealing with our problems. We need to teach young and old how to negotiate through crises, how to be proactive with troubled people, how to recognize and treat depression and anxiety, how to prevent violence.
 
We need to be smarter and stronger than a disgruntled 20-year-old with a trench coat and an assault rifle. We are so good at flying fast and high, blowing things up, computing at the speed of light, curing many diseases, but where are we in our work to understand and prevent the violence in our dark souls?
 
John Maybury, Wandering & Wondering column, Pacifica Tribune, January 30, 2013


SamTrans to Add Hybrid Buses to Its Fleet

SamTrans is taking another step toward modernizing its fleet with buses that will lower emissions and improve fuel consumption. The Board of Directors has approved a contract to purchase 25 diesel electric hybrid buses. The energy-efficient buses, the first in the SamTrans fleet, are expected to be in service throughout the county by the end of the year.
 
The low-floor buses use long-life, non-hazardous, maintenance-free batteries to capture and store braking energy, and advanced solid-state controllers to manage and blend power sources.

For the environment and passengers, this means reduced emissions and smoother, quieter buses. For the district, it means less fuel, which translates into improved operating costs. The new buses are expected to save $3 million in fuel costs over the next 12 years.
 
The purchase is part of a $32.2 million contract for a total of 62 buses. The remaining buses will be powered by modern diesel technology. The buses will replace 1998 buses, the oldest vehicles in the SamTrans fleet.
 
Vehicle modernization is part of an ongoing program to reduce emissions throughout the SamTrans fleet and meet the newest clean-air standards issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
 
The diesel-electric hybrid buses will produce 90 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the 1998 buses they replace. The fuel technology used in the new diesel buses has engine emission certification levels that are the same as those found in buses powered by compressed natural gas.
 
The buses include upgrades that improve safety and comfort for riders. The wheelchair ramp has a more gradual incline, which makes it easier for riders to board the bus. The buses even offer smart technology features, such as interior, energy-efficient LED lighting, equipped with sensors that measure the ambient light. On bright, sunny days, the lights turn down and when it is dark outside, the lights are brighter. The rear door is also modernized to open automatically when a passenger stands on the exit stairs, eliminating the need for a push bar on the door.
 
The buses are part of a fleet of 313 SamTrans vehicles that provide transportation for more than 40,000 people every weekday. Most SamTrans riders use the bus to get to and from school or work, and 64 percent do not have access to a car.


Hill's Bills: State Senator Jerry Hill to Protect Mountain Lions

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Democratic State Senator Jerry Hill has introduced legislation that would require the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) to use nonlethal options when responding to incidents like the one that led to the fatal shooting of two mountain lion cubs by a game warden in the backyard of a home in Half Moon Bay on December 1, 2012.
 
Current state regulations do not give DFW much flexibility when mountain lions venture into areas populated by humans, as in the incidents that resulted in the Half Moon Bay shootings and another in Redwood City in 2011.

Hill’s legislation also would authorize DFW to partner with wildlife groups and nonprofits when responding to such incidents, if no imminent threat to human life. Current law doesn’t clearly authorize DFW to use wildlife groups throughout the state, even though they could help tranquilize and capture mountain lions.
 
Contact: Aurelio Rojas, communications director,  916-747-3199 cell or 916-651-4013 office; Leslie Guevarra, 415-298-3404 cell or 650-688-6384 office
 
Background
On November 30, 2012, two sibling mountain lion cubs were observed in the 800 block of Correas Street in Half Moon Bay near Burleigh Murray Ranch State Park. The cubs, which DFW officials initially said weighed 25 to 30 pounds, were fatally shot after game wardens and San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies were unable to shoo them out of the neighborhood.

Necropsies showed the female cubs were only about 4 months old, weighed 13 to 14 pounds, and were starving and unlikely to survive in the wild without their mother.
 
Recent incidents have renewed calls for change from wildlife organizations and residents from around the state. A petition by animal aid group Wildlife Emergency Services urging DFW to change its ways has already received more than 1,000 signatures.
 
Hundreds of mountain lion sightings are reported every year in California. The reports range from simple sightings in the wild to the presence of mountain lions in developed areas. Attacks on humans are rare, but the incident in Half Moon Bay in December marked the second such shooting by a state game warden in San Mateo County in as many years.
 
Since the Half Moon Bay incident, wildlife advocates have met with DFW officials to come up with protocols to avert shooting of mountain lions, which are “specially protected mammals” under Proposition 117, approved by voters in 1990.

DFW’s rules clearly state: "When evidence shows that a wild animal is an imminent threat to public safety, that wild animal shall be humanely euthanized (shot, killed, dispatched, destroyed, etc.)."

Yet the way the guidelines are written, on-the-ground responses treat any situation where a mountain lion "might somehow" come into contact with a human—no matter how unlikely—as a situation of "imminent threat.”
 
The nonlethal procedures DFW will be required to use under Hill’s legislation include capturing, pursuing, anesthetizing, temporarily possessing, temporarily injuring, marking, attaching to or surgically implanting monitoring or recognition devices, providing veterinary care, transporting, hazing, relocating, rehabilitating, and releasing. 

The legislation still provides DFW with the authority to kill a mountain lion if the animal can reasonably be expected to cause immediate death or physical harm to humans.
 
The legislation also clearly authorizes DFW to develop partnerships with veterinarians, scientists, zoos, and other individuals and organizations to work with state game wardens when mountain lions wander too close to humans.

This is an important change since wildlife and nonprofit organizations throughout the state have the capability and experience to assist with mountain lion incidents.

As an example, the Peninsula Humane Society, which rescues and rehabs injured and orphaned native wildlife, saved the lives of 1,450 wild animals last year in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties. 
 
“The safety of Californians is priority number one, but the law needs to be changed to give wardens more nonlethal options when dealing with the increasing number of mountain lion encounters in our neighborhoods,” Jerry Hill says.
 
"Californians value mountain lions as the last remaining apex predator in the state, contributing substantially to environmental health. Senator Hill's legislation reflects those values and will help to ensure that mountain lions remain in the wild for future generations to appreciate," says Tim Dunbar, executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation.
 
(Photo credit: one of the mountain lion cubs killed in Half Moon Bay on December 1, 2012. Photo provided by California Department of Fish and Wildlife)


City Council Postpones Study Session on Commissions and Committees

(UPDATE: Noel Blincoe reports that Pacifica City Council met January 23 but postponed its Study Session on the future of city commissions and committees, including the Open Space Committee (OSC). Noel says two dozen people showed up January 23 to speak on behalf of OSC. He also notes that there still is no word on filling OSC vacancies. See op-ed below by Noel and fellow OSC member Leo Leon.)

For the previous two years, the city has not been filling vacancies on the Open Space Committee (OSC). This has caused cancellation of meetings, resulting in no work or progress on open-space issues.

Open space is such an important resource for Pacifica, and many people have worked long and hard on protecting important lands, that it seems entirely appropriate to have a committee dedicated to open space.

GGNRA is a significant land owner in Pacifica, and has shown a willingness to partner with the city on improving and maintaining coastal parkland and public access. A group specifically dedicated to interacting with GGNRA also seems appropriate.

For years, OSC has recommended outstanding Pacificans for their service to preserve open space. This recognition focuses public attention on the need to protect open space.

In an informal setting, OSC takes public input and suggests solutions to resolve issues and make recommendations to the City Council. OSC is the first to examine development proposals on public open-space lands and parcels named in the “Open Space Task Force Report.”

In protecting open-space values, OSC listens and works with the public and sometimes suggests plan revisions to allow development with maximum reasonable protection of open-space resources. For decades, this system has been efficient and has avoided possible confusion.

In Pacifica, history shows that encouraging public input at OSC works to the advantage of the city because issues are identified and addressed before they reach the Planning Commission and City Council.

There are a variety of ways the council could handle reorganizing the environmental committees. In whatever form OSC takes, it is inconceivable that the city would not have a citizen group whose job is to advise the council on open-space issues. Whatever decision the council makes, we should maintain both an Open Space Committee and a GGNRA advisory board.

Noel Blincoe & Leo Leon

OSC members