Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Interesting Times

Friday, August 20th, 2010

“May you live in interesting times” —Ancient chinese curse, likely apocryphal

WeedsOver a year ago I posted this photograph from a vacant lot along the Oakland waterfront. One commenter suggested that it looked like a relic of the dying American economy. Another thought, more colorfully, that it was “maybe the last known hideout of a gang of Cotton Candy Carny Vendors on the run from the law.”

Whatever it evoked, the scene no longer exists. Construction crews have been working to expand neighboring Union Point Park, so this overgrown, debris-strewn lot has been transformed into tidily landscaped parkland, with a small stretch of the Bay Trail running through it. The graffiti-decorated concrete pipes have been replaced by new lampposts, landscaping and bike racks, and the cool (but deteriorating) boatworks building behind it will also be renovated and put to some use:

This project is funded by Measure DD, the bond measure passed by Oakland voters almost a decade ago—the same measure that is allowing for all the improvements around Lake Merritt, of which the redone parkland along the Lakeshore side is just one example:

DSC_0006

DSC_0004

Unfortunately, the canada geese have discovered the plush new carpets of grass since these photos were taken, so picnickers and sunbathers aren’t quite as plentiful as they were in the spring, but even so, this side of the park still looks better than it has in decades. (Other wonders of the Lake Merritt work: the smooth pavement and new bike lanes which have turned a bike ride on Lakeshore from a medieval ordeal into a pleasure, and the razing/rebuilding of the 12th street viaduct, which is so exciting that someone has created an entire blog just to document daily developments in the construction.)

And Measure DD projects aren’t the only positive developments around Oakland these days. In fact, there is exciting news on many fronts: Oakland’s plentiful new restaurants are getting approving attention from coast to coast; new bars, clubs and performance spaces continue to open at a furious clip; and the art scene continues to thrive. I see more bikes on the road than ever before, with a wider variety of riders on them. Even with Oakland’s high unemployment rate and shrinking police force, crime continues to be down by double-digit percentages compared with recent years in nearly every category except residential burglaries. In many ways, Oakland feels a lot like a city on the upswing.

Why talk about curses, then? Because despite all this good news, one can’t help but wonder if Oakland is on the verge of collapse. The city’s municipal finances are in terrible shape and projected to get much worse. The unemployment rate is said to be around 17%, but given the wide disparity between Oakland’s rich and poor neighborhoods, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is more like 50% in some areas. Oakland’s precarious financial situation and wealth disparities are, of course, just a microcosm of what we also see on a state, national and global level. And events as varied as the ongoing economic crisis, the BP oil spill, and the rise of Sarah Palin as a prominent political figure have made some of us wonder if prophets of doom like Dmitri Orlov or Jim Kunstler might not only be entertaining cranks, but also correct.

During this moment of instability and pervasive anxiety, here comes the race for mayor. Ten candidates have ultimately qualified for the ballot, and while none of them (with the exception of the minor candidate who openly espouses municipal bankruptcy) seem nervy enough to propose solutions commensurate with the city’s fiscal problems, the race does promise some entertainment value. We have the “Green” Party candidate who wants to abolish parking meters. We have one city councilmember who seems to think that helping to squander all the city’s money during the boom years makes her qualified to lead the city during these bust years. We have a former community college trustee whose best-known accomplishment was using her public credit card for over $4000 of personal spending, some of it in Las Vegas. We have a professor and political analyst who seems smart and sensible, but perhaps more eager to share the details of his preferences in baked goods than the details of his plan to cope with Oakland’s fiscal disaster. We have a veteran politico who was term-limited out of his state senate seat, but apparently held it long enough to leverage it into a lucrative longterm arrangement with the state’s extremely powerful prison guard’s union.

As an under-40 blogger with an interest in “alternative” transportation, I may be demographically doomed to vote for Rebecca Kaplan, but some of her proposals seem fantastical (which is not to say fantastic) and some of her recent actions, such as placing herself between a line of riot police and an unruly crowd after the Mehserle verdict, or voting in support of a liquor store in North Oakland, have made a lot of people wonder if she is perhaps a bit too eager to be all things to all people. (Then again, she’s an energetic and smart lesbian former rabbinical student and transportation wonk who did her undergrad at MIT, on whose campus I spent much of my early boyhood—I mean, what’s not to love, right?)

Despite the motley assortment of oddballs, insiders and longshots who are running for mayor, it’s hard for me personally to muster any enthusiasm about any of them, but the campaign will at least provide a fair amount of drama for the next few months. As for whether Oakland—and the state and the nation—will see a renaissance in coming years, or enter a tailspin of ecological, financial, and social collapse…we’ll just have to wait and see. Interesting times, indeed.

Nature Takes its Course

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

In case you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you, say, filled part of San Francisco Bay with landfill and built some airstrips on it, then abandoned them for a decade or more, here is a photo I took yesterday at the Alameda Naval Air Station, which has been unused by planes for over a decade:

The Tide is High

That’s a tidal pool on an old taxiway—the water shows up around high tide, then drains away as the tide subsides. Here’s a shot from the same angle, taken at a dry point in March:

A Runway with a View.

When you gaze out at the runways with plants growing in every crack and shorebirds sometimes swimming in the temporary pools of water, you get the feeling that it would only take another decade or two for the bay to reclaim this land. With the ongoing battles over redeveloping the area, maybe we’ll actually see it happen. Here’s a different angle of the same tidal pool, with a disappearing runway and the cranes and shipping containers of the Port of Oakland in the background:

New Growth

(I posted some other photos of NAS Alameda here back in March. Those photos and a few more are all collected in a Flickr set.

Mixed Blessing

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

The bad news: The Large Hadron Collider won’t yield results anytime soon. The good news: If the paranoid crazies end up being right that it will destroy the universe, then we have gained a short reprieve.

Spendthrift BART directors vote to raise fares

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

As I feared and warned about just two weeks ago, BART’s profligate board of directors just voted to raise fares six months earlier than planned, citing budget deficits. See, it’s okay to waste money, because you can always get transit-dependent citizens (along with BART employees) to pay for it. Never mind that those citizens are also suffering in this lousy economy, and that the reason many of them use public transportation is because they can’t afford to own cars, and that for environmental reasons we should be doing everything we can encourage, not discourage, use of public transit. Here is CBS5’s early story on the vote:

Bay Area Rapid Transit riders can expect to start paying more to ride and park this summer as the transit agency tries to close a $250 million deficit projected over the next four years.

BART directors voted Thursday to adopt three fare hikes that will go into effect on July 1.

At the end of a lengthy discussion, BART directors voted to raise basic train fares by 6.1 percent and to add 25 cents to the minimum fare for short trips. They also voted to charge an extra $2 surcharge for all trips to the San Francisco International Airport.

The 25-cent increase in the minimum fare will increase the base fare from $1.50 to $1.75.

BART directors also voted to begin charging a $1 parking fee at eight additional stations. Parking fees are already in place at some BART stations.

BART had not been slated to increase its fares until Jan. 1, but directors voted to move up the fare increases by six months because of BART’s large budget deficit.

Union contracts expire on June 30 and BART is also likely to ask for significant concessions from employees to help make up for the budget shortfall.

I haven’t heard yet whether Lynette Sweet, the BART director who recently said that raising fares to SFO would be “hard to swallow” and a “hardship,” voted for the fare hike.

It was pretty clear that something like this was coming, but I thought that the BART directors would wait a while, for fear that it would appear unseemly to raise fares two weeks after deciding to waste half a billion dollars on a train-in-the-sky to Oakland Airport. Apparently they had no such qualms, however.

State of Emergency

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

California’s official motto is “Eureka.” Our official nickname is “The Golden State.” Has any thought has been given to changing one of these to “State of Emergency”?

The most recent state of emergency was proclaimed by Governor Schwarzenegger on Friday, regarding the ongoing drought. (Our current heavy rains, although helpful, have only been a drop in the bucket, so to speak.) Three weeks earlier, the governor had declared a state of emergency because of the state’s projected $42 billion deficit. And every fall, we see numerous states of emergency proclaimed due to wildfires (four separate states of emergency in November alone.) Add to all these the potentially catastrophic emergencies caused by large earthquakes or failure of levees in the Sacramento River Delta, and I can’t help but wonder if “State of Emergency” would be a more apt nickname than “The Golden State.”

Statistic of the Day

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Rainfall at Oakland International Airport from January 1st to February 14th: 2.61 inches

Rainfall at Oakland International Airport on February 15th: 1.87 inches

Those two numbers are way below average and way above average, respectively. (In fact, the record rainfall for Feb 15 had previously been 1.41 inches.)