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August 2007

The Great Outdoorsman: S.F. Chronicle Columnist Paul McHugh Moves On, Urges Fight for the Environment

California's great outdoors still will be around after Saturday. But I won't. Well, not at this particular newspaper, I mean. After 22 years of pounding the outdoors beat for The Chronicle - and sometimes getting pounded by it - I'm about to fold my tent and take a hike. And yes, I do mean that literally.

I depart with a grin. It's been the gig of a lifetime. As outdoors writer for a great western daily, I've traipsed to most corners of California, been immersed in lake, stream and sea, gotten stuck on cliffs, charged up to mountain peaks and wafted up and down in the sky. Deploying my "license to thrill," I've taken a whitewater raft through Alaskan wilderness, dropped from a helicopter to ski off the crest of the Rockies, skin-dived on Hawaiian reefs, surfed in Ireland and paddled through a gale far off the Chilean shore.

Sometimes I burned vacation time to do it; but mostly I was privileged to tour on The Chron dime. No matter what, it has been my pleasure to try to tote a corking good yarn back home to share with readers. And folks, I truly appreciate your feedback, your support, your tips - and your criticisms and course corrections. No matter what I do, I seem incapable of doing it without a notebook in my hand. So, rest assured I'll send you more material in some fashion from somewhere.

One great part of a newspaper job is that it awards permission to ask questions and seek answers. I've focused on trying to wield that power well, particularly while facing folks who didn't seem inclined to answer. This job hasn't been only about fun; I've striven to address real resource and public-access issues.....

[read the full column by clicking Download PaulMcHughFarewell.doc]

Paul McHugh Online

Britons: Too Much Effort to Go Green

Millions of people across Britain think their behaviour does not contribute to climate change and find it too much effort to make green changes to their lifestyle, a government survey suggests. About 25% polled agreed with statements such as: "It takes too much effort to do things that are environmentally friendly" and "I don't believe my behaviour and everyday lifestyle contribute to climate change." The results of the survey of public attitudes and behaviour were released last week by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. About 3,600 people were asked about transport, waste recycling and buying habits. It follows five similar surveys over the past 20 years, the last in 2001.

Of the issues people think the government should address, the environment was the fourth most mentioned, behind crime, health and education: 18% cited immigration, the first time it has featured significantly. When asked about their attitude towards the environment, 67% strongly agreed or tended to agree that "humans are capable of finding ways to overcome the world's environmental problems". And 17%, said that "climate change is beyond control - it's too late to do anything about it." While 29% of people said they were already making an effort to use their cars and fly less, up to a third said they "don't really want to" make such changes. Over half said they would like to reduce their car use but found there were no practical alternatives.

Guardian Weekly 21 Aug 07
"The only thing that stops God from sending another flood is that the first one was useless."  Nicholas Chamfort (1741-1794)

[courtesy of Jake Sigg]

Pacifica's Tsunami Siren Towers Could Be Disguised to Look Like Trees

Disguising cell towers as palm trees is fairly common practice in SoCal. An amusing discovery was that apparently in NorCal some people are opting instead for (very poor) fake pine trees. Here's some photos I took while strolling in Sunnyvale:
Fake Tree 1

Fake Tree 2

We noticed that this tree looked wrong from a long way off. When we got closer, it became clear  it was in fact a fake; the branches were bolted on! At first we thought maybe since this is the grounds of Bishop Elementary School, that it might be a fake Bishop Pine. But when I called them, they confirmed it is a cell tower.

[reader comment in Jake Sigg's environmental email newsletter]

BART's Big Nosedive Off the Tracks in 1972

BART Accident

I found a history of the BART accident at Fremont on October 2, 1972. Three days after the line opened, a BART train drove past the end of the tracks, through a sandpile and down a slope into a parking lot below. The driver was blamed, of course, but he had done everything right, and more. Some time after the accident, I met BART's Chief Engineer and spent time photographing the wreck and BART's maintenance operations for work AMF was doing on railroad safety. Interesting stuff! BART trains were broken and disabled all over the system. The design was a comedy of errors.


Mountain Lions Spotted in the Back of Linda Mar


Mountain lions have been seen in the picnic grounds and near the rest rooms in San Pedro Valley Park early in the morning and at dusk. If you hike in the park at these times, be alert. If you see a mountain lion, don't crouch down or run away, both of which are behaviors that can trigger a mountain lion's attack instincts. Park bulletins such as this one from advise:

Avoid behavior that may attract lions:

  • Do not allow children to run ahead on trails.
  • Avoid hiking alone or at dusk and dawn.
  • Do not jog on trails.
If you see a mountain lion:
  • Remain calm! Enjoy the sighting. Most visitors never get the chance to see a mountain lion.
  • Never run from a mountain lion! No one can outrun a mountain lion.
  • Do not crouch down; the lion has seen you long before you saw it.
If you encounter an aggressive lion:
  • You must convince the lion that you are not prey and that you may be dangerous yourself.
  • If you have small children with you, pick them up and do all that you can to appear large.
  • Hold your ground, wave your arms, shout! If the lion behaves aggressively, throw rocks at it!

Report all mountain lion sightings, in detail, to a park ranger.


Mori Point Progress Report


Hello, Mori Point enthusiasts,

Another very busy two weeks has passed, and I’m pleased to say that the project’s going great! The National Park Service trail crew is chugging along on the installation of the timber steps connecting the seawall and the Point. They’re almost halfway finished with this very labor-intensive project!

Last week the trail crew hosted a great group of volunteers (including folks from the Oracle Corporation) who made incredible progress in filling in the timber step boxes with shale gravel to allow for proper drainage along this steep trail. Volunteers will continue playing a big role in the enhancement of this area. 

When the winter rains come, we'll plant native species around the timber steps, and right now, the Site Stewardship Program is already hosting volunteer workdays to help grow these plants. For more details about volunteering, see below.

Park users already may have noticed the pile of cement chunks slowly accumulating along the side of Mori Road. The sundry items in those piles are the result of our biomonitoring preparations. While excavating burrows in search of snakes and frogs, we have found all kinds of unexpected fill material in the soil, like cement chunks, sink plumbing, tractor axels, and bedsprings. These items are temporarily piled beside our brand-new bulletin board along Old Mori Road, and will be removed very shortly. We apologize for the mess!

On the pond creation front, we’re perfectly poised to break ground on the southern and middle ponds! Since our temporary snake exclusion fence has been installed, we’ve checked every rodent burrow and crevice in those areas for animals. We feel confident that there aren’t any snakes or frogs hiding in these enclosed areas, so now we’re ready to dig in! And with the digging comes moving soil off site with dump trucks. You can expect to see (and hear!) dump trucks moving up and down Old Mori Road fairly regularly during the pond excavation. We apologize for this temporary Inconvenience and appreciate your patience! 

Because of this traffic along Old Mori Road, the road itself (and trails leading directly to it) will be closed during our work hours (M-F 6:30-5:30). Alternate routes are open throughout the project. If you plan to visit Mori, please use the Upper Trail (which starts halfway between Highway 1 and the Moose Lodge on Bradford Way) or the Seawall entrance. Both these trailheads remain open throughout the project. All trailheads are open in the very early morning, in the evenings, and on weekends.

I hope you continue to enjoy your neighborhood national park through these open entrances and stop on by to check on our progress!  Thanks again for your patience and support! See you at Mori’s!

Mori Point Project Coordinator

What Happens When a City Does Not Protect Its Small Businesses from Greedy Landlords

S.F. waterfront institution Java House faces rent hike on steroids
Phillip Matier/Andrew Ross
Monday, August 27, 2007
San Francisco Chronicle

It's a story we've heard all too often: A little family-run business in a newly gentrified San Francisco neighborhood is suddenly hit with a staggering rent hike by a money-hungry landlord. Only in this case, the landlord is the Port of San Francisco.

The little business getting jacked is the Java House, a mom-and-pop breakfast and burger joint on Pier 40, just up the street from AT&T Park. It just got served notice that its rent is jumping more than fivefold, from $800 to $4,429 a month, effective this coming Saturday.

"There's no way we can make a go at this rent," said owner Phil Papadopoulos, who along with his wife and daughter has been working the counter for the past 23 years. Like a lot of waterfront businesses, the Java House is on a month-to-month lease from the port. And like a lot of waterfront businesses, it was getting a nice deal, paying only $800 a month.

Understandably, the port wanted more. So last year, the port and Papadopoulos worked out a new, 15-year lease, under which the Java House would pay a base of $2,045 a month, plus 7.5 percent of whatever it grossed after rent - with more increases down the road.

The initial figure would total out to about $2,600 a month, based on last year's receipts. Papadopoulos also agreed to make $300,000 in improvements that the port wanted. The Port Commission OKd the deal in May 2006. The last step should have been approval from the Board of Supervisors - but the lease agreement never got there. "We kept calling and calling the port and asking what was going on, and they kept telling us, 'Don't worry, don't worry, it's just a formality,' " Papadopoulos said.

The port's Susan Reynolds said her office had a file full of correspondence on negotiations between the port and the Java House since the commission granted initial approval, but that no final lease had been worked out. In other words, she said, the Port Commission sign-off was only an incremental step, and there were details still to be worked out with the Java House that were never finalized.

"What are they talking about? I've got a 50-page, single-spaced lease sitting here waiting to be approved," said Don Drummond, the Java House's attorney. Reynolds also said Papadopoulos might have been dragging his feet on the new deal in order to keep paying the $800-a-month rent for as long as possible.

However, when asked to produce anything showing the Java House folks had tried to stall the deal, the port came up empty. Somewhere along the line, the port decided it could get a lot more money from the Java House. On July 25, it sent Papadopoulos notice that his rent was going up to $4,429 - plus an $8,800 security deposit.

And after Papadopoulos pays the new rent, the port said, negotiations will start on a new lease. This from a city whose own Small Business Commission touts it as a champion of business friendly policies designed to "support and enhance an environment where small businesses can succeed and flourish."


Mori Point: GGNRA Volunteer Trailblazers


I walked up on Mori Point and took pictures of work GGNRA is doing there:

Mori Point Photos

They're clearing out vegetation, and carefully moving any snakes out, and then will excavate two frog ponds to enhance the habitat of CRLF and SFGS. They will have the ponds finished before the first rains, so that the CRLF can lay eggs in them and SFGS can hunt in them. Above is a picture I took of an old bus that was sunk in the marsh. Some wonderful, friendly people from GGNRA were working there. They spent some time talking with me and were very appreciative of Pacifica Riptide for posting the announcement of their work, and the link to get on their email list for more info: Parks Conservancy

To contact GGNRA's Susie Bennett directly:



Scientists Can Drug-Test the Whole Town with One Teaspoonful of Sewage


Researchers have figured out how to give an entire community a drug test using just a teaspoon of wastewater from a city's sewer plant. The test wouldn't be used to finger any single person as a drug user. But it would help federal law enforcement and other agencies track the spread of dangerous drugs, like methamphetamines, across the country.

Oregon State University scientists tested 10 unnamed American cities for remnants of drugs, both legal and illegal, from wastewater streams. They were able to show that they could get a good snapshot of what people are taking. "It's a community urinalysis," said Caleb Banta-Green, a University of Washington drug abuse researcher who was part of the Oregon State team. The scientists presented their results Tuesday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

The EPA will "flush out the details" on testing, Benjamin Grumbles joked. The EPA assistant administrator said the agency is already looking at the problem of potential harm to rivers and lakes from legal pharmaceuticals. The idea of testing on a citywide basis for drugs makes sense, as long as it doesn't violate people's privacy, said Tom Angell of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a Washington-based group that wants looser drug laws. "This seems to be less offensive than individualized testing," he said.

See full article at

Cats, Dogs, and Horses: 10-Minute Memory


Andrea Thompson
LiveScience Staff Writer
August 20, 2007

A new study has measured just low long cats can remember certain kinds of information—10 minutes. The research was designed primarily to compare cats' working memory of their recent movements with their visual memories, and found that cats remember better with their bodies than their eyes when they have encountered an object placed in their path by say, an annoying owner or experimenter.

When a cat steps over a stray toy or shoe left on the floor on the way to its food dish, it has to coordinate the stepping action of its front legs with its hind legs. "Animals, including humans, unconsciously keep track of the location of objects relative to the body as they move, and this tracking is largely dependent on signals associated with movement of the body," said researcher Keir Pearson of the University of Alberta in Canada.

Research with horses and dogs has shown similar results, Pearson said. Similar memories may play a role in humans' ability to navigate objects in the dark or remember where they parked their car in the morning.

Full article at:

San Mateo County Times Could Use a Geography Lesson

Classic goof on the front of the Bay Area Living section of San Mateo County Times (August 21).  A photo caption describes Vallemar as a "small town south of Pacifica," then repeats the error in the text of the story. My domestic partner said, "That newspaper is such a joke."

Resident of Rockaway Beach, a small town south of Vallemar

(Editor's Note: Vallemar, Rockaway Beach, Sharp Park, Linda Mar, Manor, and other coastal communities merged and incorporated into the city of Pacifica in 1957.)