Better Parks for People Who Need Them, 2: Improving the Equity Metrics

This article expresses further concerns about the Equity Metrics developed by San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department (SFRPD). The first article is here: The  Proposed”Anti-Equity Metrics”.

Proposition B provides SFRPD with set-aside funds for the next 30 years. It also requires them to ensure equity for the parks, by spending more on parks in under-served areas. Let’s call those the “Equity” tracts (they’re based on census tracts showing below-average income).

Now SFRPD proposes a calculation method (“metric”) that indicates it’s actually devoting more resources to those parks already. (You can see that calculation HERE: item-2-equity-metrics-staff-report-final-080416) How? By simply assuming that only the “Equity” tracts use the parks within a quarter-mile of their homes, so that they get ALL the resources spent on those parks. Of course, that’s simply not true. The Equity tract users use those parks, but so does everyone else who lives nearby. (Large parks may even attract people from across the city.) They share the resources, they don’t get all the resources.

Tom Borden provides a more detailed explanation from of what’s wrong with SFRPD’s current Equity Metric (i.e., how it will calculate how it’s doing on sharing resources with under-served areas). We need improved metrics to make sure that under-served populations get more resources.


PROPOSITION B EQUITY METRICS

by Tom Borden

The Equity Metrics currently proposed by SFRPD are misleading and inadequate. The calculation method chosen by SFRPD cheats the people in under-served neighborhoods by dramatically overstating the park resources provided to them. The individual metrics chosen are indirect, subjective, open to manipulation, irrelevant and even backward to what we are trying to measure.

The Calculation Methodology
Defining census tracts based on the CalEnviroScreen data (as the current metric does) seems to be a good choice. The logic of including parks within 1/4 mile of tract boundaries also seems sound. The logic breaks down when it comes time to assign park resources to Equity census tracts. The per capita measures are based on the resources of all of the parks captured in the “Parks Serving the Equity Zones” divided by the total population of the disadvantaged census tracts. Any census tract that is within 1/4 mile of a park captures 100% of that park’s resources.

Based on this methodology, Golden Gate Park should be included, but it is not in the list of “Parks Serving the Equity Zones”. Why? Because allocating 100% of Golden Gate Park to Outer Richmond census tract 478.01 would expose the fallacy of SFRPD’s calculation method. It systematically allocates far more resources to equity zones than the residents actually enjoy. The same logical problem exists for every other park where there are non-equity tracts sharing the resources with equity tracts. It’s just that the scale of the systematic error is smaller because the parks are smaller.

When there are 20 picnic tables in a park the people from the neighboring equity census tracts do not get all of them. They share them with the other tracts within a 1/4 mile of the park. If half of the people around a park are from regular census tracts and half are from equity tracts, 10 of the picnic tables should be allocated to the equity population. The SFRPD system allocates all 20 to the equity population. All of the per capita metrics need to account for sharing in order to produce results that can be compared to the citywide averages.

[See our earlier article “The Anti-Equity Metric” for a graphic example.]

A Better Measurement

All parks are shared between census tracts. When calculating metrics, it should be done on a park by park basis based the number of people in all census tracts with tract boundaries within 1/4 mile of each park. table-for-eq-metricsSee the spreadsheet here that illustrates the calculation for McLaren Park, Palega Rec. Center and the surrounding census tracts.  (Click on it for a larger version). A spreadsheet like this could be built out to include every park and census tract in the City.

For example, let’s assume McLaren Park received $3M in capital investment in a year. That would be allocated as follows:
Capital per person = $3M / 79,740 total park users = $37.62 per person
Capital per Equity tract resident = $37.62 per person (the same as everyone else)
Capital for the 10 equity tracts adjoining McLaren = $37.62 * 35,461 equity users = $1.33M
or
Capital for the 10 equity tracts adjoining McLaren = $3M * 44.5% = $1.33M

The per capita metrics for Recreational Resources, Park Acres, Maintenance spending, etc. can be similarly calculated. To get a measure of city wide Equity in Capital spending, we would sum up all of the parks:

Capital spent in Park A * % equity users for Park A
+Capital spent in Park B * % equity users for Park B
+Capital spent in Park C * % equity users for Park C
+….
And divide that result by the total population of all equity tracts to get a citywide per capita measure.
It would also be useful to look at this from the perspective of individual Equity tracts. The per capita resources associated with each park within a 1/4 mile of the tract could be added up to see how the particular census tract was being served.

This may sound complicated, but once the assignments are made between individual census tracts and individual parks based on location, the calculation could be easily done in a spreadsheet.

This is a key issue. If it is not fixed the equity metrics are useless and the under-served communities are cheated.

The following points should also be considered in developing an improved metric.

Transparency
All of the metrics calculations should be available to the public from start to finish. Presentation of final results from a black box calculation is not acceptable.

Excluded Parks
The metrics exclude parks that have schools and libraries, Francisco Reservoir, Marina Harbor, Candlestick, the Zoo, 17th & Folsom, 900 Innes, Geneva Car Barn and Noe Valley Town Square. Some of these should be included.

  • Parks at schools and libraries are frequently larger than mini-parks and are used as neighborhood park space. They should be included.
  • The new parks should be included for the capital spending metric. Once they open, the rest of the metrics can be applied. It looks particularly bad to exclude Francisco reservoir.
  • Excluding Candlestick makes sense.
  • The harbor and the zoo do seem like special cases. If the harbor produces a positive cash flow, excluding it is ok.

Recreation – hours of recreational resources
As defined, recreational resources includes those provided by volunteers and “recreation partners”. Those should not be counted since they are not funded by SFRPD and represent efforts by the public to make up for SFRPD’s shortfall of the needed services.

Investment – Hours of Volunteer Service
We volunteer to improve our parks beyond what SFRPD is doing. Including volunteer service in this metric means that the harder we work on our park, the less SFRPD would be required to spend. The whole intent of these metrics is to insure equitable spending of the Prop B money. Volunteer hours are more likely a measure of SFRPD’s failure to spend money in a park, the opposite of what we are trying to measure.

It does, of course, make sense to account for SFRPD’s expenditures on volunteer recruitment, scheduling, and on-site management and assistance by SFRPD staff. These expenditures should be under the Maintenance heading, not Investment. Clearing brush, pulling non-native plants, repairing trails, tending native plantings and picking up trash are all maintenance, not capital improvements.

Volunteer service hours is not a valid metric.

Recreation – scholarships granted
By definition, these program discounts are granted to low income families. Of course, more will be granted per capita in disadvantaged neighborhoods. There is no point in comparing this metric between average and disadvantaged neighborhoods. A meaningful measure would be number of people participating in SFRPD programs per capita from disadvantaged tracts versus the City at large.

Access – acres per capita
This should be acres of usable parkland. It should not include parkland that is off-limits to the public such as Natural Areas under the Natural Areas Program (NAP). According to SFRPD’s Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) less than 5% of NAP controlled parkland will be open to the public.

This is a critical issue since the City’s southeast Equity region contains a disproportionate share of Natural Areas acreage. See the map below. Half of McLaren Park, almost all of Bayview Hill and most of India Basin are Natural Areas.

park-map

Investment – Capital
Capital spending on the Natural Areas Program should not be counted since it does not benefit local park users. Trail closures, land closures, access control fences and proscriptive signage do not benefit the local public. Spending money on the NAP in Equity Zone parks is a form of environmental racism. Wealthier neighborhoods get usable landscaped parks while the disadvantaged neighborhoods have their parkland closed off for native plant preserves. These equity metrics should not promote that outcome.

Maintenance – Park Scores
The Park Scores are a useful metric. They are a good attempt at creating an objective assessment of our parks. However, it’s hard to imagine that bias does not creep into these assessments.

This should be used as a metric, but with other robust measures beside it.

Maintenance – repair requests completed
This refers to maintenance requests logged into SFRPD’s internal TMA system. Entries are made by SFRPD staff and checked off as completed. The metric is proposed as the percentage of the requests opened during a particular year that are closed in the same year. This is not a reliable metric.

If a different level of care continues to be applied to parks in disadvantaged neighborhoods, staff would not lodge repair requests for things in those parks that they would in others. A high closure percentage for the fewer requests would not mean the disadvantaged parks were being as well maintained. There is no dollar value tied to the TMA entries. A request in a nice park might be, “the rec center windows look old, replace with new windows. “ In the Equity park it might be, “the bathroom window hinges are rusting out, nail window shut.” The TMA system is subject to manipulation and is opaque to the public.

A better metric would be number of TMA requests closed per year per capita of Equity population. However, this is still of very limited meaning since the value of the requests cannot be determined.

This metric should not be used.

Maintenance – money spent per capita
This is one of the most direct and meaningful measures. Why isn’t it in here? The previous two metrics are indirect and much less reliable. RPD says this metric is not proposed because they do not know how much they spend for maintenance in any given park. Can they be serious? They do not know how many gardeners, janitors and managers are allocated to each park? Their TMA system does not track time and materials associated with a job? If they do not have this information, they need to figure it out now. How can they do a good job of managing our parks without it?

As with capital spending, maintenance spending should not include the Natural Areas Program. The activities of the NAP do not benefit park users at large. Of particular concern is the reliance of the NAP on toxic herbicides. The NAP enjoys a special exemption from Department of Environment rules that allows it to use the most toxic herbicides freely in Natural Areas. (See the new guidelines HERE: 032216_restrictions_on_herbicides )

These metrics should not promote spraying toxic chemicals in Equity Zone parks.

Better Parks for People Who Need Them: The Proposed “Anti-Equity” Metrics

Proposition B provides San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) with set-aside funds for the next 30 years. It also requires them to ensure equity for the parks, by spending more on parks in under-served areas. Let’s call those the “Equity” tracts (they’re based on census tracts showing below-average income).

Now SFRPD proposes a calculation method (“metric”) that indicates it’s actually devoting more resources to those parks already. (You can see that calculation HERE: item-2-equity-metrics-staff-report-final-080416) How? By simply assuming that only the “Equity” tracts use the parks within a quarter-mile of their homes, so that they get ALL the resources spent on those parks. Of course, that’s simply not true. The Equity tract users use those parks, but so does everyone else who lives nearby. (Large parks may even attract people from across the city.) They share the resources, they don’t get all the resources.

Tom Borden shows graphically what’s wrong with SFRPD’s current Equity Metric. In the next article, he will provide a more detailed analysis of this hastily-designed measure.

THE ANTI-EQUITY METRIC

by Tom Borden

RPD’s Equity metrics show paradoxically that the disadvantaged neighborhoods of San Francisco enjoy more park resources than the average city resident, much more. On a per capita basis, the equity population is way ahead of the average resident. Below, the first number shows the resources for the “Equity” tracts (i.e., under-served populations, determined by census tracts), vs. City-wide resources.

  • Acres of park/1,000 people:  4.42 vs 4.00
  • Number of parks/1,000 people 0.49 vs 0.26
  • Capital Investment/1,000 people $64,003 vs $24,333
  • Recreational Resources/1,000 people 530 hours vs 284 hours

Do you believe it? They must be doing something wrong in their calculations. Let’s take a look.

The graphic below shows a 10 acre park where five census tracts are within 1/4 mile of the park.
Two of the tracts are equity tracts. For simplicity, let’s say 4 people live in each tract.

park-equity-graphic-1
When SFRPD calculates their metrics, they assign 100% of a park’s resources to equity zones if an equity zone is within 1/4 mile of the park. For our park above, let’s use the SFRPD method to calculate the acres of park per capita for the equity tracts. Here’s what that looks like:park-equity-graphic-2

Using the SFRPD method, the 8 equity neighbors share 10 acres, or 1.25 acres per capita. Do they really have all that space to themselves? No. All those other neighbors standing outside use the park too. They put wear and tear on the park, occupy the tennis courts and picnic tables, take spots in programmed activities, fill up the trash cans, and take lanes at the pool.

The SFRPD method shows the equity neighbors are getting much more than they actually are. The right way to calculate this is shown below.

park-equity-graphic-3

All twenty neighbors share the park, so each enjoys 10 acres / 20 people = 0.5 acre per capita. This is the same for equity and non-equity neighbors. The two equity tracts should be allocated acreage as follows:
8 people X 0.5 acre per person = 4 acres

The portion of any particular park resource to allocate to the adjoining equity tracts is based on the simple ratio of equity park users to total park users, in this case 8 / 20 = 40%.

If there 30 picnic tables, the equity tracts would be allocated 30 x 0.4 = 12 tables
If $1,000,000 of capital was spent in the park, $400,000 would be allocated to the equity tracts.

SFRPD needs to correct their accounting for parks shared by equity and non-equity tracts. The resources of each shared park should be calculated as illustrated above. If this is not done, the error makes it look like the equity tracts are being better served than they really are. Instead of having Equity Metrics we have Anti-Equity Metrics.

POSTPONED: Sept 29, 2016 NAP Meeting; EXTENDED: EBMUD Comment Deadline

We recently posted about two important dates: a City Hall meeting regarding the Natural Areas Program (NAP)  that was scheduled for Sept 29, and the last date for comments on the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) that was September 2, 2016. They have both changed.

THE NATURAL AREAS PROGRAM

Mt Davidson 13 - only watered by the trees catching fog its still green during droughtThe Sept 29th meeting about the NAP (We wrote about that HERE) has been postponed without a new date.

Here’s what the Planning Commission wrote to one of our supporters:

“The September 29 Planning Commission hearing to certify the SNRAMP EIR has been postponed. We had two Planning Commissioners term out, so it was unlikely that we would have a full Planning Commission for the September 29 hearing date. The Planning Department is currently looking for candidates to replace the two seats on the Planning Commission but we don’t have a date of when that would occur by. Because of that, we currently don’t have a future date in mind just yet. The Planning Department is committed to publishing the Response to Comments document four weeks in advance of the hearing date. A notice will be sent out upon publication…”

This will be the meeting to certify the Environmental Impact Report on the Significant Natural Areas Management Plan for NAP. We need to make sure our voices for the forests and against pesticides are heard.

EAST BAY MUD THREATENED TREES

The last date to send in your comments to EBMUD has been extended to September 16th.  EBMUD is planning to destroy all the non-native trees in the East Bay watershed it manages, and use a lot of pesticides to do so. (We wrote about that HERE.) Comments should be sent to watershedmasterplan@ebmud.com or by mail to Doug Wallace, EBMUD, 375 11th St, Oakland, CA 94607.

The San Francisco Forest Alliance has submitted this comment:

The San Francisco Forest Alliance is a 501c(4) organization created in 2011 for the purpose of preserving our urban forest and preventing the use of pesticides in our public open spaces.  The urban forest in San Francisco is threatened with destruction for the same reason that forests in the East Bay are being destroyed by public land managers.  Most trees in the San Francisco Bay Area are non-native and for that reason native plant advocates demand that they be destroyed.

The East Bay Watershed Master Plan (EBWMP) renews the commitment of EBMUD to “replace non-native forests with native species over the long term.”  This commitment is based on the “Guiding Principle” of the EBWMP to “restore populations of native plants and animals and their environments.”

These commitments are antithetical to the primary mission of EBMUD to provide safe drinking water to their customers in the East Bay.  The safety of drinking water is jeopardized by the commitment to destroy trees and “restore” native plants for the following reasons:

– EBMUD is using large quantities of herbicide to destroy non-native plants.  Destroying trees will reduce shade and promote the growth of weeds.  This will increase the need for herbicide use.  Pesticides are dangerous pollutants in drinking water.

– Trees stabilize soil and reduce erosion.  Increased erosion will increase run off from the land and increase sedimentation, which will reduce water quality.

The trees of the San Francisco Bay Area are performing many valuable ecological functions.  Destroying them prematurely serves no useful purpose and damages the environment. The CalEEMod emissions model indicates that every acre of forest that is converted to grassland results in a net release of 106.7 metric tons of CO2.

Please reconsider EBMUD’s policy regarding tree removals and pesticide use and follow the lead of the Marin Municipal Water District to abandon the use of pesticides in your watershed.

Sincerely,

Dee Seligman, Interim President,
San Francisco Forest Alliance

Save San Francisco’s Historic Forests: What You Can Do

Mt Davidson 12 - lush greenery on both sides of trail

The San Francisco Examiner had a column on August 28th, 2016 about the Natural Areas Program’s (NAP) plans to cut down thousands of trees, especially on Mt. Davidson:
http://www.sfexaminer.com/shady-story-san-francisco/

Here’s the beginning:

Did you know San Francisco originally didn’t have hardly any trees? The first Spanish explorers described the area as “nothing but sand, brambles, and raging winds.” Even in the 1860s, renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted described San Francisco as “perfectly bare of trees or shrubs — and almost awfully bleak …”

As a wave of tree-planting swept the country in the years after the Civil War, Adolph Sutro planted trees on land he owned on Mount Sutro and Mount Davidson. He planted eucalyptus and Monterey cypress, trees that could best withstand The City’s harsh climate — foggy summers with little rain and strong, cold winds roaring in from the ocean.

People loved the “new” forests then, as they do today. Windbreaks, provided by the trees, make walking and playing in the parks more pleasant. Trees muffle the sounds of the surrounding city, provide wildlife habitat, help clean pollution out of the air, increase property values and take huge amounts of carbon out of the environment.

But in recent years, San Francisco has been “invaded” by people who claim that native plants are somehow “better” than non-natives. These extreme nativists want to rip out existing habitat if it contains plants that weren’t here before the Spanish arrived — a completely arbitrary date that they chose — and replace them with plants that were here then. That means getting rid of San Francisco’s trees.

The Recreation and Park Department’s Natural Areas Program pushes a native plant agenda and has claimed control of one-third of all Rec and Park-managed parkland, including Mount Davidson and Sharp Park in Pacifica. NAP’s management plan calls for the removal of more than 18,000 trees, not because they’re diseased or dying, but simply because they were not here before the Spanish arrived.

Mount Davidson, one of the few forested areas in The City, will lose 1,600 trees. The middle third of its forest will be substantially cleared of trees — even healthy ones — so the area can be converted to grass and scrub.

With fewer trees to block it, the wind blowing through Mount Davidson’s forest will increase significantly after the removals, making it more likely that limbs — or entire trees — could be blown down. This significant safety issue should concern Rec and Park. … CONTINUE HERE

CALL TO ACTION:

1) Please leave positive comments about the article on the Examiner’s website, and share the column with your friends and family.

2) Please email the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors (or at least your own Supervisor), the Planning Commissioners  and the secretary of the Recreation and Park Commission (email addresses listed below) and let them know you want forests — especially those on Mt. Davidson and in McLaren Park — removed from NAP’s control. NAP cannot manage forests well if they don’t think the forests belong in SF because trees weren’t here when the Spanish arrived.

NAP has one more hurdle to pass before the Recreation and Park Department can begin to officially implement their plans to cut down thousands of trees, close miles of trails, restrict access to large sections of our parks, and increase the use of herbicides in our parks.

On September 29, the Planning Commission and the Recreation and Park Commission will consider whether to certify the Environmental Impact Report for NAP’s Management Plan. SAVE THAT DATE! It will be our last chance to stop NAP.

EMAIL ADDRESSES FOR MAYOR, SUPERVISORS, PLANNING COMMISSIONERS AND REC AND PARK COMMISSION 

SF Mayor
mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org

SF Board of Supervisors
john.avalos@sfgov.org
David.Campos@sfgov.org
Malia.Cohen@sfgov.org
Jane.Kim@sfgov.org
Katy.Tang@sfgov.org
Norman.Yee@sfgov.org
London.Breed@sfgov.org
Mark.Farrell@sfgov.org
Eric.L.Mar@sfgov.org
Scott.Wiener@sfgov.org
Aaron.Peskin@sfgov.org

Planning Commissioners individual email addresses:
planning@rodneyfong.com
dennis.richards@sfgov.org
wordweaver21@aol.com
richhillissf@yahoo.com
christine.d.johnson@sfgov.org
mooreurban@aol.com
cwu.planning@gmail.com

Recreation and Park Commissioners
via the secretary’s email:

recpark.commission@sfgov.org

We will need people to attend and speak against NAP at the Sept 29th hearing. We will provide suggested comments and an analysis of the EIR closer to the date.

Stay tuned!

Public opinion does make a difference!

Hands Off Mt Davidson’s Forest – Take it Away from NAP

San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s Natural Areas Program (NAP) plans to remove 1/3 (10 acres) of the mature and healthy forest on Mount Davidson. We think the 30-acre forested area of the mountain should be removed from NAP’s control to prevent this destruction. The forest should be managed by professional foresters, like those in the Presidio, not gardeners.

In June, 3 years ago, U.C. Berkeley Forestry Management Professor Dr. Joe R. McBride (pdf link: MtDavidson_McBride_Ginsburg(06-29-13)) wrote about his inspection of the Mt Davidson forest, concluding that the Natural Areas Program’s  Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) for the removal and thinning of different portions of the eucalyptus plantation on Mt. Davidson is NOT justified.

He noted that the forest serves an important role in the history and visual characteristics of the city. Trees and the existing understory provide habitat for wildlife and wind protection for walkers.

mt davidson forest - hiker on trail

Summary of Dr. McBride’s letter to Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of the SF Recreation & Park Dept (parent Department of Natural Areas Program (NAP)):

1) Historic importance and Visual Value.
The eucalyptus forest on Mount Davidson was planted under the direction of Adolph Sutro, philanthropist and former Mayor of San Francisco. The hilltops covered in eucalyptus trees and Monterey cypresses are a distinctive feature of San Francisco’s landscape. They’re been there for a hundred years and are an important historical heritage.

2) Eucalyptus is not invasive.
The Plan frequently refers to these trees as “invasive.” Prof. McBride’s studies indicate that eucalyptus does not invade adjacent grasslands; and this is also obviously true on Mt Davidson, where a stable boundary exists between the forested and unforested areas. [In fact, the California Invasive Plant Council, which had earlier considered eucalyptus as moderately invasive downshifted this classification in April 2015 to “Limited.]

3) Eucalyptus groves are biodiverse.
Eucalyptus groves are richer habitats for vertebrates than either redwood or Monterey cypress/pine forest; and are similar to dry chaparral and grasslands.

4) More Pesticides.
Removing the number of trees shown in the Plan will expose the ground to more light than existing understory plants can tolerate. In the disturbed ground and increase light conditions, existing exotic species will proliferate and will have to be controlled by using even more pesticides.

5) Increased wind-throw and breakage of remaining trees.
Removing trees in this windy area will affect the trees that remain, which are not wind-hardened. More trees will go down.

6) Reducing a wind-break.
This is a very windy part of the city, with winds blowing in straight from the ocean. Walking recreationally on Mt Davidson will be a less pleasant experience.

7) Reduction in habitat.
The Plan’s assumption that birds will quickly adjust to removal of 1600 trees is unfounded. Many birds return to the same nesting site each year. Cutting down large numbers of trees displaces these birds, and also causes a great deal of disturbance. Bird protection plans usually call for a 300-foot radius of protected area around a nest.

Girdled tree Mount Davidson

Girdled tree Mount Davidson

8) The forest is healthy.
The dead trees in the forest have been girdled by someone/s with a vendetta against eucalyptus; few trees – if any – have died naturally.

9) Ivy is not a problem.
English and Algerian ivy climbs up the trees, but cannot smother the trees by growing into the canopy. The only snags covered in ivy were those that had been girdled.

10) Regeneration is a 22nd Century issue.
It’s been argued that the understory of ivy, Cape ivy, and Himalayan blackberry may restrict the establishment of eucalyptus seedlings. If so – and it’s possible – this is a problem for the next century. The forest, though 100 years old, is comparatively young. This could be revisited in another 100 years or so. Meanwhile, the understory provides an excellent food source and cover for wildlife.

Mt Davidson 2 - fuschia flourishing despite drought, watered by the trees catching the fog

 

Below: Mt Davidson map shows where 10 acres of healthy, mature trees will be removed if the  SNRAMP plans for maximum restoration are approved.  The red, green and yellow notations highlight the information contained SNRAMP plans (as per notes on the lower, bottom left)..

Mt Davidson Map from SNRAMP document

Mt Davidson Map from SNRAMP, highlighted to show where one-third of the forest will be removed.

 

Another Attack on Trees in The East Bay

This article is republished with permission from “Death of a Million Trees“, a website dedicated to fighting unnecessary tree destruction in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you want to help save these trees, please sign the petition.

sign for East Bay MUD TreesAlso, if you would like to comment, EBMUD is accepting comments until September 16 2, 2016. [Edited to Add: The comment period has been extended to Sept 16.] This massive destruction of trees across our Bay Area affects us all. Trees fight climate change by sequestering carbon, provide habitat for native birds and animals, as well as for forage for bees and other insects, and provide shade and beauty. This is not just an East Bay issue.

 

East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) is the public utility that supplies our water in the East Bay. To accomplish that task, EBMUD manages thousands of acres of watershed land. Like most open space in the Bay Area, the vegetation on EBMUD’s land is a mix of native and non-native species.

Lafayette Reservoir, one of many EBMUD properties in the East Bay

Lafayette Reservoir, one of many EBMUD properties in the East Bay

EBMUD is revising its Master Plan. The draft Master Plan makes a new commitment to destroying all eucalyptus and Monterey pines in favor of native vegetation. The draft Master Plan is available HERE. EBMUD is accepting written public comments on the draft Master Plan until September 2nd. [NOTE: DEADLINE EXTENDED TO SEPT 16, 2016]

Comments should be sent to watershedmasterplan@ebmud.com or by mail to Doug Wallace, EBMUD, 375 11th St, Oakland, CA 94607.

EBMUD held a public meeting about its draft Master Plan on Monday, August 15, 2016. That meeting was attended by over 200 people. Most of the crowd seemed to be there to defend their access to EBMUD trails by bicycles.

There were 10 speakers who defended our trees against pointless destruction and the consequent pesticide use to prevent their resprouting. As usual, the Sierra Club came to object to increased access for bicycles and to demand the eradication of our trees. As usual, claims of extreme flammability of non-native trees was their stated reason for demanding the destruction of the trees. Update: HERE is a video of speakers at the EBMUD meeting for and against tree destruction and pesticide use.

If you are watching the news, you know that there are now eight wildfires raging in California. All of these wildfires are occurring in native vegetation. The claim that non-native trees are more flammable than native trees and vegetation is nativist propaganda.

Furthermore, our native trees are dying of drought and disease. This article in the East Bay Times informs us that 70 million native trees have died in the past four drought years and that the millions of dead trees have substantially increased fire hazards. In other words, it is profoundly stupid to destroy healthy, living trees at a time when our native trees are dying and pose a greater fire hazard.

We are grateful to Save the East Bay Hills for permitting us to publish their excellent letter to EBMUD about their misguided plans to destroy our urban forest. We hope that their letter will inspire others to write their own letters to EBMUD by September 2, 2016. Save the East Bay Hills is a reliable source of information about our issue. Thank you, Save the East Bay Hills for all you do to defend our urban forest against pointless destruction.

Update: Save the East Bay Hills has also created a petition to EBMUD that we hope you will sign and share with others. The petition is available HERE.


saveeastbayhills

August 15, 2016

Douglas I. Wallace
Environmental Affairs Officer
Master Plan Update Project Manager
East Bay Municipal Utility District
375 11th Street
Oakland, CA 94607

Dear Mr. Wallace,

This letter serves as our response to the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s invitation for the public to review and comment on the draft of the East Bay Watershed Master Plan (“Draft Master Plan”) update. There is much in the plan to recommend itself and much that leaves a lot to be desired.

We are grateful that the Draft Master Plan recognizes the value of trees regardless of their historical antecedents, specifically noting that,

“Eucalyptus trees provide a source of nectar and pollen that attracts insects, which in turn serve as a prey base for birds and other animals. Hummingbirds and many migratory bird species feed extensively on the nectar. In addition, eucalyptus trees produce an abundant seed crop. These tall trees are used as roosting sites for birds. Bald eagles have roosted in eucalyptus groves in the San Pablo Reservoir watershed, and a great blue heron rookery exists in the eucalyptus trees at Watershed
Headquarters in Orinda. A great blue heron and great egret rookery was active near the northern arm of Chabot Reservoir in the recent past.”

The Draft Master Plan recognizes, “the ecological value and likely permanence of certain nonnative species and habitats,” including Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine. It recognizes that these two species of trees, especially Monterey Pine “provide stability to watershed soils” and “provide erosion control with a widespreading root system.”

It recognizes that they provide “protection from solar exposure, wind, and noise.”

It recognizes that they “provide biodiversity value (bald eagle and other raptor species) on District watershed lands.” For example, “Monterey Pine seeds provide food for small rodents, mammals and birds…”

It cites to the EBMUD Fire Management Plan which recognizes the value of trees in mitigating fire: “They do not represent a significant fire hazard when the understory is maintained for low fire intensities… Stands that are well spaced with light understory, proper horticultural practices, and maintenance of trees, e.g. spacing and above-ground clearance, can serve to minimize fire hazard.”

It admits that removing the trees would lead to inevitable grasses and shrubs which increase the risk of fire: “The most susceptible fuels are the light fuels (grasses, small weeds, or shrubs)…”

Finally, it recognizes that these tall trees occupy a very small portion of District lands: 1% for Eucalyptus and 2% for Monterey Pines.

Given their immense beauty, the habitat they provide, their mitigation against fire, the erosion control, all the other recognized benefits, and the fact that they occupy such a small percentage of overall District lands, why does the Draft Master Plan propose that they be eradicated over time?

The answer appears to be nothing more than perceived public will:

“As this species is considered a nonnative pyrophyte, regional pressure is present to reduce the number of Monterey Pine stands.”

“As a nonnative pyrophyte, eucalyptus plantations are a target of regional public pressure for removal.”

This is a misreading of the public will. The Draft Master Plan is elevating the nativist agenda of a loud, vocal minority over good sense, good science, ecological benefit, protection against fire, and the desires of the vast majority of residents and users of District lands. How do we know?

The City of Oakland, the University of California, and the East Bay Regional Park District have also proposed eradicating Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus trees and of the 13,000 comments received by FEMA during the public comment period following its draft plan, roughly 90% were in opposition by FEMA’s own admission. Moreover, over 65,000 people have petitioned the City of Oakland to abandon its effort to remove the trees.

That EBMUD does not hear from people who find beauty, shade, and benefit in the trees is not because they do not care; rather, it is because most members of the public do not understand the extent to which these trees are under siege by nativists, nor the level of cooperation these individuals are receiving from public lands managers to see their vision prevail.

For most members of the public, it simply strains credulity that those tasked with overseeing our public lands would cooperate with efforts to destroy not only large numbers of perfectly healthy trees, but given their height and beauty, trees that are the most responsible for the iconic character of East Bay public lands and the appeal of our most beloved hiking trails. And for what end? To treat our public lands as the personal, native plant gardens of those who subscribe to such narrow views. In short, there is no widespread desire to get rid of these trees and they should not be removed.

Indeed, the Draft Master Plan recognizes several “emerging challenges” as a result of climate change including, but not limited to, “increasing average temperatures, prolonged droughts, erosion, decreased soil moisture, and augmented risk of fires.” Tall trees like Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine help mitigate these challenges. For example, fog drip falling from Monterey Pines in the East Bay has been measured at over 10 inches per year. In San Francisco, fog drip in the Eucalyptus forest was measured at over 16 inches per year.

Moreover, Eucalyptus trees are an important nesting site for hawks, owls and other birds and are one of the few sources of nectar for Northern California bees in the winter. Over 100 species of birds use Eucalyptus trees as habitat, Monarch butterflies depend on Eucalyptus during the winter, and Eucalyptus trees increase biodiversity. A 1990 survey in Tilden Park found 38 different species beneath the main canopy of Eucalyptus forests, compared to only 18 in Oak woodlands. They also prevent soil erosion in the hills, trap particulate pollution all year around, and sequester carbon.

Many of these benefits are especially important in light of Sudden Oak Death which the Draft Master Plan admits is an ongoing challenge and is likely to increase because of climate change. If Sudden Oak Death impacts oak woodlands and EBMUD intentionally cuts down Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine which are proving themselves more suitable for the environment, it risks a treeless landscape, which would not only be a loss of beauty and loss of wildlife habitat, but exacerbate the challenges already faced by EBMUD as a result of climate change.

We also object to the Draft Master Plan accepting the labels “native” and “non-native” and making decisions based on that fact alone. “Non-native” and “invasive species” are terms that have entered the lexicon of popular culture and become pejorative, inspiring unwarranted fear, knee-jerk suspicion, and a lack of thoughtfulness and moral consideration. They are language of intolerance, based on an idea we have thoroughly rejected in our treatment of our fellow human beings — that the value of a living being can be reduced merely to its place of ancestral origin.

Each species on Earth, writes Biology Professor Ken Thompson, “has a characteristic distribution on the Earth’s land surface… But in every case, that distribution is in practice a single frame from a very long movie. Run the clock back only 10,000 years, less than a blink of an eye in geological time, and nearly all of those distributions would be different, in many cases very different. Go back only 10 million years, still a tiny fraction of the history of life on Earth, and any comparison with present-day distributions becomes impossible, since most of the species themselves would no longer be the same.”

This never-ending transformation — of landscape, of climate, of plants and animals — has occurred, and continues to occur, all over the world, resulting from a variety of factors: global weather patterns, plate tectonics, evolution, natural selection, migration, and even the devastating effects of impacting asteroids. The geographic and fossil records tell us that there is but one constant to life on Earth, and that is change.

Even if one were to accept that the terms “native” and “non-native” have value, however, not only do they not make sense as it relates to Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus, but the outcome would not change for three reasons. First, Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus provide numerous tangible benefits as previously discussed, while the claimed “problem” of their foreign antecedents is entirely intangible. That a plant or animal, including the millions of humans now residing in North America, may be “non-native” is a distinction without any practical relevance beyond the consternation such labels may inspire in those most prone to intolerance; individuals, it often seems, who demand that our collectively owned lands be forced to comply to their rigid and exiguous view of the natural world. What does it matter where these trees once originated if they provide such tremendous beauty and benefit here and now?

Second, the fossil record demonstrates that Monterey Pine are, in fact, “native” to the East Bay. (See, e.g., http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/montereypines_01.) Monterey Pine fossils from the middle Miocene through the Pleistocene have been found in several East Bay locations. Similarly, since Eucalyptus readily hybridizes with other species, many experts now claim that California Eucalyptus hybrids could rightly be considered native, too.

Of more immediate concern, however, is that the five narrowly defined “native” stands of Monterey Pine — the Año Nuevo-Swanton area in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties, the Monterey Peninsula and Carmel in Monterey County, Cambria in San Luis Obispo County, and Guadalupe and Cedros Islands off Baja California in Mexico — are in danger. In light of escalating temperatures due to climate change, to save Monterey Pine requires “a new foundation for conservation strategies of the species and its associated ecosystems. If Monterey pine has long existed in small, disjunct populations and if these have regularly shifted in location and size over the California coast in response to fluctuating climates… then it would be consistent to extend our conservation scope…” “Areas not currently within its [narrowly defined so-called] native range could be considered suitable habitats for Monterey pine conservation.” (Millar, C., Reconsidering the Conservation of Monterey Pine, Fremontia, July 1998.)

As tree lovers and environmentalists in Cambria are banding together to determine how, if at all, they can save their precious remaining Monterey Pines now dying from drought in record numbers, here in the East Bay – less than 224 miles away – land managers at EBMUD are considering plans to willfully destroy them in record numbers. It is ecologically irresponsible and for those of us who dearly love the stunning, even arresting, beauty of these trees, it is also truly heartbreaking.

Third, and perhaps more importantly, removing Eucalyptus and restoring “native” plants and trees is not only predicated on the ongoing use of large amounts of toxic pesticides, it does not work, a fact acknowledged by cities across the country. In the last ten years, the City of Philadelphia has planted roughly 500,000 trees, many of which are deemed “non-native” precisely because “native” trees do not survive. “[R]ather than trying to restore the parks to 100 years ago,” noted the City’s Parks & Recreation Department, “the city will plant non-native trees suited to warmer climates.”

For all these reasons, we oppose the elimination of Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus, even if phased over time as proposed, and likewise oppose EBMUD’s participation in the destruction of similar Pine and Eucalyptus forests in the Caldecott Tunnel area, in partnership with outside agencies. We ask that these be stricken from the Master Plan.

Finally, we oppose the ongoing and, if the trees are cut down, potentially increasing use of pesticides and ask that a ban on their use be put in effect in the final Master Plan, for the following reasons:

● Extremely low levels of pesticide exposure can cause significant health harms, particularly during pregnancy and early childhood.

● Children are more susceptible to hazardous impacts from pesticides than are adults and compelling evidence links pesticide exposures with harms to the structure and functioning of the brain and nervous system and are clearly implicated as contributors to the rising rates of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, widespread declines in IQ, and other measures of cognitive function.

● Cancer rates among children are increasing at an alarming rate and pesticide exposure contributes to childhood cancer, as well as other increasingly common negative health outcomes such as birth defects and early puberty.

● Approximately 4,800,000 children in the United States under the age of 18 have asthma, the most common chronic illness in children, and the incidence of asthma is on the rise. Emergence science suggests that pesticides may be important contributors to the current epidemic of childhood asthma.

● Animals, including wildlife and pets, are at great risk from exposure to pesticides, including lethargy, excessive salivation, liver damage, blindness, seizures, cancer, and premature death.

● Pesticides contain toxic substances, many of which have a detrimental effect on animal health, including pets, raptors, deer, and other wildlife, which is compounded when the bodies of poisoned animals are ingested by subsequent animals.

● The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recommended non-chemical approaches, such as sanitation and maintenance.

These concerns are compounded by the fact that pesticides are to be administered near reservoirs, threatening the safety and integrity of our water supply and the water supply of the plants and animals who also depend on it. These reasons are why the Marin Municipal Water District removed the use of herbicides from further consideration in its Draft Plan and maintained the pesticide ban it has had in place for several years.

Pesticides are not only dangerous, they are also incredibly cruel. Rodenticides, for example, are opposed by every animal protection group in the nation because not only do they kill animals, but they do so in one of the cruelest and most prolonged ways possible, causing anywhere from four to seven days of suffering before an animal finally comes to the massive internal bleeding these poisons facilitate. This long sickness period often includes abnormal breathing, diarrhea, shivering and trembling, external bleeding and spasms, suffering and death that is perpetuated when their dead bodies are ingested by subsequent animals, such as owls and raptors. Put simply, EBMUD should not be in the business of targeting any healthy animals, trees, and plants for elimination; and doing so by pesticides harms animals well beyond the target species, including humans.

In summary, public agencies overseeing public lands have a responsibility to minimize harm and reject radical transformations of those lands and the ecosystems they contain, especially in absence of any clear public mandate. Not only have these lands been handed down in trust from prior generations for us to enjoy, preserve, and bequeath to future generations, but there is a reasonable expectation on the part of most citizens that those overseeing our collectively owned lands not undertake agendas to destroy large numbers of healthy trees, kill healthy animals, and poison our environment. Regardless of how Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine trees may be maligned by the extreme few, they are beloved by the many, being in large part responsible for the East Bay’s beauty, iconic character and treasured, shady walking trails and picnic areas.

In the case of EBMUD, this orientation is even more alarming and a violation of the public trust because it elevates the ideological driven, nativist agenda of the few above the agency’s primary mandate and interests of the many: ensuring the integrity and safety of our water supply and the plants and animals who reside there. Adopting plans to alter pre-existing landscapes through the use of toxic pesticides in order to placate unreasonable and xenophobic demands on lands that contain the public’s precious reserves of drinking water is a deep inversion of priorities.

We respectfully request that these proposed ends and means be stricken from the Master Plan.

Very truly yours,
Save the East Bay Hills

Barn Owls in Glen Canyon

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Did you know that Glen Canyon has Barn Owls (Tyto Alba) as well as our famous Great Horned Owls?!  Barn owls are much smaller than the cat-sized Great Horned Owls, weighing just over a pound and reaching about a foot in length. Their wingspan reaches over a yard.

Compare this to our Great Horned Owls whoooo [misspelling intended] can reach a length of 25 inches, weigh anywhere from two to six pounds, and have a wingspan of 5 feet. Great Horned Owls are considered “true” owls whereas Barn Owls are classed differently as Tytonidae.

Barn Owl (Tyto Alba). Their huge eyes don’t move in their sockets like ours do, so an owl must move it’s entire head, rather than just its eyes, to see things clearly. This owl is twisting its head to examine me. Their eyes are no good during the too-bright-light-for-them-during-daylight, so it’s also squinting.

Barn Owl (Tyto Alba). Their huge eyes don’t move in their sockets like ours do, so an owl must move it’s entire head, rather than just its eyes, to see things clearly. This owl is twisting its head to examine me. Their eyes are no good during the too-bright-light-for-them-during-daylight, so it’s also squinting.

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Although they usually glide and “moth their wings” without a trace of sound, Barn Owls can also be quite noisy, as when they really bat their wings loudly on purpose to scare off an intruder, or when they are vocalizing. It is because of their noise that I recently ran into some. I was really surprised when the squawks I heard turned out not to be those of a nearby bluejay warning off the owls. No, it was the owls themselves protecting a youngster! Barn owls, it turns out, don’t “whoo, whoo, whoot”, as we all might expect, as the Great Horned Owls do. Instead, they screech in a bunch of different ways. I made a recording of the sounds:

Press here for AUDIO: Notice there are a couple of distant coyote barks at the 34-39 second marker, and the owls get really intense at the 2:54 marker. The recording lasts 3:24 minutes.

For years I’d seen one at dawn or dusk, gliding and swooping in its silveriness, ever so silently through the dark. You could only see them as you do the bats — against the lighter night sky before total darkness set in in the evening, or before the light of day set in at dawn, or as a shimmer against the darker trees at these twilight hours.

Once, I lay down on the ground and was able to capture, in a photo, one of these owls as it “mothed” right above me, from what seemed like five feet away, examining me out of curiosity — no, it was not courting me! It was because that owl was against the lighter sky that the camera was able to capture its image — it was actually dark outside.

They are nocturnal, so if you want to see them you should begin your walk in the dark — and keep your eyes on the sky above the tree-line: you may see one floating silently by before returning to its roost at dawn, or as it begins its “day” hunting at dusk. I’ve Googled some interesting information which I’ve added below.

Barn Owl "moths" over me

Barn Owl “moths” over me

Territoriality. Barn Owls defend the area around their nests, but they don’t defend the area where they hunt from others of their same species — they share. In other words, more than one pair of Barn Owls may hunt on the same fields.

Contrast this with the Great Horned Owls who live in the same parks as the Barn Owls but who are very territorial: only one mated Great Horned Owl pair and their offspring live and hunt in any one area. Their territoriality which excludes other Great Horned Owls actually places a limit on the number of breeding pairs in any given area. Great Horned Owls who haven’t been able to establish territories are known as “floaters” — they live along boundaries of established territories.  In fact, it may be that just the male Great Horned Owls defend the territories. They are known to kill each other in territorial conflicts, and sometimes resort to cannibalism. Not the Barn Owls!

In the summer, the Barn Owls’ home hunting ranges are a little over a square mile; in the winter they can be many times larger. If food is extremely scarce, both of these owl species might move out of their established territories, but there is no annual migration and they maintain their territories for life.

Nesting. I found out that most Barn Owls mate for life — they are monogamous, as are Great Horned Owls — though there have been reports that some males have had several female mates at the same time. And Barn Owls tend to use the same nest site year after year. One of their courting displays is hovering in front of the female in a “moth-like fashion” — Oh, I experienced this several years ago! Chicks usually start flying at 9-10 weeks and begin leaving the nest for good at about 11-12 weeks. All will probably be gone by 14 wks.

If there is nesting in July, as is the case with this find of mine, it’s usually a second clutch for the mated pair. About 10% of barn owls reproduce two times a year — and some even produce three clutches in a year! And, although the breeding season is considered from March to August — having expanded due to climate change from an original breeding season which was almost always in May — they, in fact, can produce youngsters at any time of the year.

They lay as many as 6 eggs, but more often than not, only about 4 of them hatch. The eggs are laid asynchronously, every 2-3 days and they hatch in the order in which they were laid (sounds like a business telephone answering service, doesn’t it?!). So chicks from the same clutch can actually vary up to about 21 days in their ages. They don’t “build” nests, but find places to lay their eggs which they line with their pellets.

Owl Pellet -- Guano dripping down a tree trunk -- Great Horned Owlet spitting up a pellet

Owl Pellet — Guano dripping down a tree trunk — Great Horned Owlet spitting up a pellet

Poop. Pellets are actually excrement regurgitated through the mouth. Owls swallow their prey whole, but they don’t digest the bones and fur. The parts of the prey that actually pass through the digestive tract and out of their rumps are excreted as a softish, whitish “guano” — like that of all birds. Guano can often be found dripping down the tree trunks on which they perch.

However, in owls the larger, indigestible parts of the prey, including bones and fur, are kept in their gizzard for a couple of hours as a pellet which then travels back up into the Proventriculus (the first part of the stomach) where it remains for ten hours before being regurgitated. This stored pellet actually blocks the owl’s digestive system so that new prey cannot be swallowed until the pellet is ejected. Twice a day these are spat-up, or regurgitated out of their mouths, as “pellets”. These pellets basically look like the poop of other animals except that they are oval-shaped and not long. [see Digestion in Owls]

Hunting. All owls’ eyesight is pretty superb — they hunt at night [see “Coyote Night Vision”]. In addition, the ability of Barn Owls to capture prey by sound is the best of any animal that has ever been tested. Their satellite-dish shaped faces helps with this. They eat mostly small mammals such as rats, mice, voles, gophers. Also bats. They don’t eat squirrels so much because they are less active at night. They also eat some song birds. 91% of barn owls, post-mortem, are found to contain rat poison. The most long-lived Barn Owl ever recorded was 15 years old.

Poisons. Everyone, please don’t use poisons to eradicate rats, and please ask your neighbors to do the same. Rat poison is a horrible and slow death for rats, causing them to bleed from the inside out, and causing them to become disoriented and slow. This is why owls catch them. But worse, the poison actually travels up the food chain to these owls. Several years ago I sent in two dead barn owls for toxicity tests: they were found to have huge amounts of rat poisons laced throughout their bodies. We’ve also had a number of our Great Horned Owls killed by rat poisoning: One, this year, we guessed, was the mother of owlets who then never made it to adulthood.

[Photo and Story by Janet Kessler]