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Susie Cagle's Posts

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Feds mark territory all over L.A. wildlife habitat

Los Angelenos may be fond of their cars, but they're also fond of their diverse wildlife. That's probably not what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was counting on when it unilaterally and without warning decided to clear-cut 43 acres of wildlife habitat on L.A.'s Sepulveda Basin.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Much of the area's vegetation had been planted in the 1980s, part of an Army Corps project that turned that portion of the Los Angeles River flood plain into a designated wildlife preserve.

Tramping through the mud Friday, botanist Ellen Zunino — who was among hundreds of volunteers who planted willows, coyote brush, mule fat and elderberry trees in the area — was engulfed by anger, sadness and disbelief.

"I'm heartbroken. I was so proud of our work," the 66-year-old said, taking a deep breath. "I don't see any of the usual signs of preparation for a job like this, such as marked trees or colored flags," Zunino added. "It seems haphazard and mean-spirited, almost as though someone was taking revenge on the habitat."

In 2010, the preserve had been reclassified as a "vegetation management area" — with a new five-year mission of replacing trees and shrubs with native grasses to improve access for Army Corps staffers, increase public safety and discourage crime in an area plagued by sex-for-drugs encampments.

The Army Corps declared that an environmental impact report on the effort was not necessary because it would not significantly disturb wildlife and habitat.

By Friday, however, nearly all of the vegetation — native and non-native — had been removed. Decomposed granite trails, signs, stone structures and other improvements bought and installed with public money had been plowed under.

Since the razing, the Corps has posted many photos of happy birds in other parts of the basin habitat in an attempt to reassure the public, or at least the public that is aware of its Flickr page. The Corps said that "somehow" it "didn't clearly communicate" its intentions to plow under the habitat. Is it any wonder that excuse didn't go over so well with, well, anyone?

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California cold snaps farmers’ crops

Time for more predictably weird weather news! Sunny California, while still sunny, has been freezing this week. Temperatures statewide plunged to as much as 20 degrees F below normal, the lowest lows the state has seen in years.

The freezing overnight temps are seriously bad news for California farmers' crops, especially the state's $2 billion citrus industry, which accounts for most of the commercially available oranges and lemons in the U.S.

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Strawberry and avocado farmers, too, "are having a lot of sleepless nights," protecting crops with in-field heaters, coverings, fans, and water.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The cold snap has been a particular concern for citrus farmers across the state, who have been up all night since Thursday. There are $1 billion in oranges, lemons, tangerines and grapefruit still on trees in California, the nation's largest producer of fresh citrus.

Read more: Food

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‘Soul Food Junkies’ digs into African American food history and habits

Is soul food "the bane of African American health," or is it a cuisine with a long and complex cultural history?

What if it's both?

Filmmaker Byron Hurt's documentary Soul Food Junkies premiering tonight on PBS aims to tell the history of soul food and contextualize collards, peas, and cornbread in the contemporary fight for food justice in communities of color, communities we often call "food deserts."

Food deserts are by definition low-income communities without supermarkets or grocery stores, where fresh food is a rarity and people suffer from obesity, diabetes, and other health problems. We often blame food deserts themselves for those health problems, but that label can obscure culinary history, not to mention some basic facts. Many poor urban neighborhoods aren't actually food deserts at all -- they're closer to food swamps full of ready-made and relatively cheap processed items. The "nutritional timberline," as Karla Cornejo Villavicencio coins it at The New Inquiry, is a real thing.

In Hurt's film, he interviews a woman who is upset that her local grocery only carries vegetables “that look like they’re having a nervous breakdown." From PBS:

The idea is that if healthy choices are available, people will buy them. And that works to an extent. But old habits die hard. A 15-year longitudinal study found that upping the number of grocery stores in low-income areas didn’t result in people automatically buying healthier food.

Read more: Cities, Food

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California enjoys and/or suffers from a historic baby bust

Despite what my Facebook friend feed may be implying lately, California as a whole is not bursting at the seams with cute drooly babies. In fact, the Golden State is having a population crisis, at least by American standards. According to a new report from the University of Southern California, the state is making a "historic transition": California's fertility rate has dropped to 1.94 children per woman, below the 2.1 rate that replaces and grows the population and the economy. The U.S. birthrate was 2.06 children last year. Demographers are calling the drop, which has affected all racial and ethnic groups, "unprecedented" (and "European").

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"Kids are no longer overrunning us. Now they're in short supply," demographer Dowell Myers told the San Jose Mercury News. "It changes the priorities for the state."

Post-baby-boom, California had no population worries. In 1970, kids accounted for a third of the state's population. Now they're projected to make up one-fifth by 2030.

The Wall Street Journal is particularly hysterical about what a lower population might mean for California's economic growth.

"Unless the birthrate picks up, we are going to need more immigrants. If neither happens, we are going to have less growth," said [Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy]. The report wasn't optimistic, saying that "with migration greatly reduced…outsiders are much less likely to come to the rescue."

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Pinnacles in California named as 59th national park

While California's state parks are perpetually troubled, at least the Golden State can celebrate a new national park. On Thursday, President Obama signed into law a bill by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) that makes Pinnacles National Monument in central California a protected national park, the 59th in the country and ninth in the state.

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The San Jose Mercury News has more:

"The park's sanctuary for the California condor and native wildlife, its red crags, caves, impressive displays of spring wildflowers, and opportunities for star-viewing under its noteworthy dark skies make Pinnacles a special place and worthy of its national park status for future generations to enjoy," said Neal Desai, Pacific Region associate director for the National Parks Conservation Association.

Farr had tried to make the bill stronger, but was foiled by House Republicans:

[T]he last Congress, which ended Jan. 3, was the first Congress since 1966 not to designate a single new acre of public land in America as federally protected wilderness, where logging, mining and other development is prohibited.

Farr's bill originally called for designating 3,000 acres inside Pinnacles boundaries as wilderness. The area is where biologists in recent years have been releasing California condors as part of a captive breeding program to bring the species back from the brink of extinction. But that provision was stripped out by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Resources Committee.

Read more: Living, Politics

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German neo-Nazis take to organic farming

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If someone eats organic and/or vegetarian, we tend to make assumptions about their politics. With the notable exception of Glenn Beck, vegan and conservative don't tend to mix. (And he only lasted three weeks.)

Not so in Germany, where a small but vocal movement of right-wing environmentalists with some creepy ideas about food and purity are farming organic crops. The German Green Party's Böll foundation published a book about these "brown environmentalists" last year. The New Yorker introduces us to one of them: Helmut Ernst, a corn farmer, activist, and "not a Nazi" but a supporter of other seriously right-wing policies.

“What we’re seeing is a stable right-wing movement in Eastern Germany,” said Hubertus Buchstein, who is a political science professor at the University of Greifswald and one of the book’s authors. “Some of them have started organic farming—it seems to fit the right wing. Now, instead of being militant, a new strategy is to live in the country and sell organic apples. Some are vegan, very strict.”

Read more: Food, Politics

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Fixing a broken gas tax could fix broken roads

Too many people are driving too many dang efficient cars in the Pacific Northwest lately, and Washington and Oregon have had enough. Between those efficient cars and a population that's just generally driving less, gas tax intake has fallen nationwide, meaning less money for road maintenance and repairs that all cars (and bikes!) need. Now some states are looking at new ways to make up the difference.

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Starting next month, Washington will begin taxing electric vehicle owners $100 per year, though with about 1,600 electric cars in the state, that's not likely to fill those empty coffers. In Oregon, lawmakers are considering a proposal to tax through a flat fee like Washington or by taxing drivers of fuel-efficient cars based on the number of miles they drive. (A new report to the Washington state legislature says a mileage tax there would be "feasible.")

Some say that taxing based on vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, will be the gas tax of the future not just for West Coast hippies, but for everyone. From CNBC:

Either way, what's happening in the Pacific Northwest is raising a number of questions. The primary one being: Is it only a matter of time until anybody owning a car or truck is paying a special tax based on how much they drive their car?

Supporters of VMT or per mile taxes point out that electric car and even hybrid car owners are paying nothing or very little to help maintain state roads.

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Can fed-up Oregon organic farmers get a GMO ban on the ballot?

Image (2) hill-crops_tall.jpg for post 13741Petitioners in Southern Oregon's Jackson County are pushing a measure onto the ballot that would outlaw the farming of genetically modified crops in the region.

Recently Jackson County organic farmers found genetically modified sugar beet crops planted by the Swiss corporation Syngenta AG as close as one-eighth of a mile from their farms. Until last year, any GMO crop planted within four miles of an organic farm would've been against Department of Agriculture rules. But since then, it's been a farming free-for-all.

From the Mail Tribune:

Ashland seed farmer Chuck Burr said he has a personal reason to support a proposed ban on genetically modified organisms in Jackson County.

He had to throw away $4,700 in chard seed after learning it might have been contaminated with pollen from nearby GMO fields.

"I'm up against it here," said Burr, the owner of the 10-acre Restoration Farm on Old Siskiyou Highway. "I have to make a living, and I have an absolutely constitutional right to engage in commerce.

"And if another company comes in from outside the area and prevents me from doing it, then my rights trump theirs."

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Silicon Valley’s ‘unbuilt Manhattan’ is best left unbuilt

Over the past two decades, an influx of tech money has sent rents in San Francisco skyward. It's the fastest growing rental market in the country, with the East Bay's Oakland coming in second. Last year, landlords in San Francisco used the "Ellis Act" to evict three times as many tenants as they had in 2011, in order to circumvent rent control.

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Ken Layne at The Awl harkens back to a simpler time when you could rent a studio in SF for less than $2,400, and compares that to now:

In 2013, the bigger tech companies are still in Silicon Valley, but the people working there—from Mark Zuckerberg to the newest $100K hires straight out of college—want to be in San Francisco. Zuckerberg is a part-timer, with a fancy apartment in the Mission. The rest are part-timers in Silicon Valley, commuting to and from work on immense luxury buses run by Google, Apple, EA, Yahoo and the rest. This has caused problems, notably for San Francisco residents unlucky enough to survive on less than a hundred-grand starting salary. Talk of raising the city's skyline is met with anger. People argue endlessly over the appropriate comparisons to New York. Is Oakland the Brooklyn to SF? What about Berkeley, or Marin, or the Outer Sunset? And what does that make Bayview or Burlingame?

All of this assumes that urban San Francisco equals Manhattan. It does not. San Francisco, with its leafy parks and charming row houses and distinct villages and locavore restaurants and commuters fleeing every morning to work, is the Brooklyn to an as-yet-unbuilt Manhattan.

To some extent, this is true. Many parts of San Francisco have become bedroom communities for tech workers who take company-sponsored shuttles or hellish Caltrain routes to work many miles south, to a place where rents are cheaper, but the living is decidedly suburban. The youngs making six figures at start-ups seem to prefer the hell of Caltrain to the hell of Silicon Valley suburbia.

Nobody wants to move to the Bay Area for work and then discover they actually have to live in a completely different climate an hour's drive (without traffic) from the actual bay. The magical part of the Bay Area is really confined to the Bay Area, with its relatively green hills and foggy mornings and cool ocean air.

So Layne proposes building dense, walkable, appealing neighborhoods in the bleak, sprawling stretch between San Francisco and Silicon Valley some 40 miles to the south. "[I]n the post-automobile era, where else would you look to expand your metropolitan area other than the underused sections in the middle of your metropolitan area?"

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RE-volv is making a community pot of solar gold

What if every dollar you donated to a worthy cause generated two, three, or more dollars? That's the idea behind the RE-volv community solar fund project, currently closing in on the end of its first stage of fundraising.

Like Mosaic, RE-volv is tapping the collective for funding to back solar projects. But instead of individuals investing for their own individual good, RE-volv envisions a big pot-o-gold seed fund that would be invested and reinvested in community solar infrastructure. These are investments in solar's future -- essentially donations to RE-volv's fund. Here's how RE-volv explains it:

The Solar Seed Fund will use the donations to finance solar installations on community-serving organizations such as schools, universities, hospitals, and places of worship. RE-volv recoups the solar installation cost and earns a return on the investment through a 20-year solar lease agreement. The lease payments go back into the Solar Seed Fund allowing the fund to continuously grow, and finance an expanding number of solar installations.

According to the group's numbers, once 14 RE-volv systems are in place, the revenue from those systems will be able to fund another solar-power system of roughly the same cost -- and on, and on.