Previous month:
December 2009
Next month:
February 2010

January 2010

Historian-Activist Howard Zinn Dies

Howard Zinn, Historian who Challenged Status Quo, Dies at 87

January 27, 2010
By Mark Feeney and Bryan Marquard
Boston Globe

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and whose books, such as "A People's History of the United States," inspired young and old to rethink the way textbooks present the American experience, died today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling. He was 87.

Pacifica Climate Group: Keep Studying Sharp Park

The Pacifica Climate Committee, a citizens group working since 2007 to study the local impact of climate change, has written to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Recreation and Park Department, urging them to “commit to long-term planning for the impacts of sea level rise and climate change on Sharp Park, and delay any planning decisions regarding Sharp Park until such planning is complete...The recently released Sharp Park Conceptual Restoration Alternatives Report omitted any analysis of sea-level rise and climate change impacts...therefore, the scope of this report is too narrow upon which to base long-term planning decisions.” The letter is dated December 21, 2009, and signed by Committee member Cynthia Kaufman.
The committee has been involved in climate change-related activities in Pacifica, such as creating an inventory of Pacifica’s non-municipal greenhouse gas emissions, celebrating International Climate Action Day on October 24, developing a “low-carbon diet,” and hosting the Community Climate Forum at Council Chambers on June 18, which featured Assemblymember Jerry Hill and then-Mayor Julie Lancelle.
Councilmember Lancelle was surprised that the City of Pacifica, which has been working with the committee, was not sent a copy of the committee's letter. She pointed out that “the City Council approved the formation of a Pacifica Climate Action Plan Task Force at the request of members of the Pacifica Climate Committee...Without a doubt, we are very concerned about the long-term effects of climate change.” The city is conducting interviews for the task force this week.
Dawn Kamalanathan, planning director of San Francisco Rec & Park, which prepared the alternatives report, echoes those sentiments. “The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department is absolutely interested in and committed to exploring the long-term impacts of sea rise on Sharp Park.” Dawn stated in an email response to the Pacifica Climate Committee letter, “Our intent is to conduct this exploration in full partnership with the County of San Mateo and City of Pacifica, as the potential impacts of sea rise on that region extend beyond the boundaries of Sharp Park.”
But at Pacifica Council Chambers on December 11, David Munro, one of the lead authors of the Rec & Park report, indicated that the report focused primarily on helping the highly endangered San Francisco garter snake recover in the short term. He said, “We’re looking at a planning horizon that takes into account events that will happen before sea level rise becomes too significant.”
For Celeste Langille, Pacifica planning commissioner and Climate Committee member, more long-term planning is needed. “You need to do all the analysis before you decide on a course of action,” she said. “Because the alternatives haven’t been studied, I don’t know what would be better for flooding for the neighborhoods. That’s why there needs to be planning for 50 to 100 years out.” Although the Rec & Park report included a no-golf alternative, a 9-hole alternative, and its preferred 18-hole alternative, it chose not to evaluate the feasibility of phasing out the levee or turning the property over to the National Park Service and GGNRA.
A separate study done by ARUP International, an engineering firm, looked at the condition of the levee. It recommended repairs costing between $6 million and $14 million, and requiring annual maintenance of 1 percent of initial cost. It estimated such repairs would result in “low to very low vulnerability to overtopping or breach” for 50 years.
Bob Battalio, Pacifica hydrologist and coastal engineer who helped develop the FEMA Pacific coast flood study guidelines, estimates that an effective long-term levee repair could cost closer to $30 million, and would not necessarily help. He said, “The risk of flooding from rainfall runoff is greater than the risk of flooding from the ocean. Therefore, the levee is counterproductive.”
Battalio has offered to help develop an alternative plan. “I think we can develop a plan that is sustainable, can enhance endangered species habitat, maintain our beach, and can even allow golf for at least the next few decades. Unfortunately, the existing plan has fundamental flaws inconsistent with better solutions.” He fears it would endanger the very species it is designed to protect. “Their plan places salt-sensitive species right behind the levee where they are at risk from saltwater overtopping and groundwater intrusion.”
Lancelle said she would welcome an informational meeting with Battalio, perhaps along with Councilmember Jim Vreeland, who she said is “very well versed in coastal planning.” But she urged that “the long-term planning effort should not delay what needs to be done soon to maintain the coastal trail and golf course at Sharp Park and, most important, protect the endangered species habitat there.”
Unfortunately, the City of Pacifica has its hands full. As Commissioner Langille put it, “Pacifica has a lot of coastal planning to do besides the golf course. Just look at Esplanade.”


Biodiversity: We Are the Next Endangered Species

The United Nations has launched the International Year of Biodiversity, warning that ongoing loss of species around the world is affecting human well-being. Eight years ago, governments pledged to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, but the pledge will not be met. Expansion of cities, farming, and infrastructure is the main reason. Speaking at the launch in Berlin, German premier Angela Merkel urged establishment of a new panel to collate scientific findings on the issue. Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), urged governments and their leaders to renew their commitment to curbing biodiversity loss even though the 2010 goal will be missed. "The urgency of the situation demands that as a global community we not only reverse the rate of loss, but that we stop the loss altogether and begin restoring the ecological infrastructure that has been damaged and degraded over the previous century or so," he said. Click link to read the full BBC story:

Connemara "As Seen in Your Dreams"

Aptly headlined "As Seen in Your Dreams," the latest fantasy ad for Connemara luxury gigantoboxes appeared January 23 in the S.F. Chronicle's New Homes section, showing a busty blonde daydreaming and sunbathing (!) in North Pacifica with the blue ocean in the background. The advertorial at the top of the page spurts such absurdities as "Connemara has enjoyed tremendous sales success, thanks in part to its breathtaking whitewater ocean views." Yeah, tell that to the evacuated tenants of Esplanade Avenue. Also, we don't think we have ever heard surf described as whitewater. Perhaps the Connemara copywriter was dreaming of a river rafting trip somewhere up in the mountains. As usual, the copy ends breathlessly: "The final Connemara homes are now selling, so hurry in before it's too late." This is the umpteenth time this exact same advertising feature has run over the past couple of years as the asking price has plummeted several hundred thousand dollars. Is anyone actually taken in by this kind of flummery? Oh yeah, we also heard about a carpet store having yet another huge going-out-of-business sale. Well, as P.T. Barnum once said...



Ian Butler: Nurdle Beach/Secret Waterfall @ KTVU

KTVU Channel 2 broadcast an interview with Ian Butler January 26 about the Styrofoam littering Nurdle Beach. Ian showed the TV reporter his "secret waterfall," a storm drain emptying onto the beach. Pacifica public works officials said they would investigate and figure out if they can install a screen to filter out the trash and keep it off the beach.  CHECK OUT THE VIDEO

After Air America: Bay Area Public Radio Struggles


I consider myself fairly progressive and I didn't care much for the tone of some of the programming I heard on Air America. Sometime before Air America existed, on Prairie Home Companion, there was a radio play called "Adventures in Ethics" in which a radio personality wrestles with his conscience because his producer wants him to be "the Rush Limbaugh of the liberals." His job was to play as fast and loose with factoids just like the far-right media do. The show was funny because the left didn't do those kinds of things. With Air America, any illusion that the left was above all that sort of vanished. What remains here in the Bay Area is KPFA (Pacifica Radio, no connection to Pacifica, California) and two public radio stations. One thing to know about KQED and KALW is that even though they do present stories that won't make it to Fox News, and even though they often go into greater depth than standard corporate media, they participate in whatever news blackouts the propaganda machine tells them to. If one listened only to public radio stations, one would gather that the people of Haiti are poor because they just haven't been trying very hard. No mention is ever made of our glorious government meddling with their internal affairs or imposing sanctions on them for not behaving enough like the good colonies that American multinational corporations like. Public radio did report that Rev. Pat Robertson believes that Haiti's troubles come from a deal the Haitians made with the Devil over and over again. They were careful to deplore it, but why does that rate air time? Haiti earthquake coverage is a pretty good example of what we do and don't hear about on public radio. One would get the impression that the United States operates on goodwill only, offering selfless service to Haiti, but a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cargo plane carrying 12 tons of medical equipment, including drugs, surgical supplies and two dialysis machines, was turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport by the American military running the airport. Interviews on KPFA indicate that what the U.S. is doing is in service of American hegemony first and the Haitian people rate only if there is propaganda potential. We may hear a little of that on KQED and KALW, but we can know they will focus their attention elsewhere if they are told to. Public radio isn't less manipulative than the regular corporate media. It is just aimed at a smarter audience. KPFA is chronically underfunded, but it is tenacious. At a time when investigative reporting has been all but abandoned, KPFA keeps us informed, whether the powers that be want it to or not.

Styrofoam: The Other White Beach

Nurdle beach

Anyone who still questions the necessity of Pacifica's Styrofoam ordinance should take a long look at this photo snapped recently at Pacifica's northernmost beach, nicknamed "Nurdle Beach." Nurdles are small particles that Styrofoam (polystyrene) is made of and quickly breaks down into:

The entire beach was covered in a white layer of the particles, which probably numbered in the millions. Recent rains washed them from Pacifica and Daly City streets into the storm drains, down the "Secret Waterfall" and into the ocean. They were then washed up onto the beach during high tide. They will all wash away in a day or two and head out to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, poisoning birds, fish, turtles, and sea mammals all the way: 

Chris Dant: Adios, Esplanade

When we looked out the back door and saw how much had fallen, we knew it was time to go. We weren't required to leave, but the relentless reduction in safety margin and late-night surprises had taken their toll.

My pictures:

The day's events, from a personal perspective, following the landslide behind 320 Esplanade:

Chris Dant

The Daily Grind: Gravity & Erosion @ Esplanade


CLICK ALL PHOTOS TO ENLARGE: As of January 22, the tarp hung to protect the cliff last weekend at 330 Esplanade had collapsed during the past week's fierce storms, leaving erosion under the building evident.


The land is eroding in jagged inlets toward the Land's End apartments.

Looking north from the blocked gate to the stairwell going down to the beach.