Aug 212014
 
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Sebastopol’s unique and wonderful Elizabethan fair returns to Ives Park on Sept. 13 and 14. This event, which pays particular attention to historical accuracy and education as well as being cracking good fun, is is run by the Sebastopol Educational Foundation and its primary purpose is to raise much needed funds for enrichment programs at Park Side, Brook Haven and Analy High schools.

I will once again be an actor in the cast of this “Renfaire”, which features veteran performers with cumulative centuries of experience acting in Renaissance Faires all over California and the nation. You will enjoy spectacular 16th century clothing (including those of the court of Queen Elizabeth I), meet characters both common and noble, peruse period-accurate craft demonstrations and wares for sale, enjoy rollicking theatrical, dance and musical performances, and partake of food and drink ranking among Sonoma County’s finest.

Since the first Faire in 2010, MAAS has raised over $125,000, benefiting students in programs including band/music, Spanish language instruction, drama, cheer/dance, sober graduation, educational field trips and more! It is easily the most pleasurable way to support our local schools. 

For more details and to purchase advance tickets to Much Ado About Sebastopol, visit the event website here. I hope to see you at Ives Park, transformed into the village commons of the town of Fenford, Warwickshire, in the jolly old 1570s.

Feb 282013
 

TimesUpHippies2The environmental movement of the latter half of the 20th century is dying. And as a product and member of that movement, I say, not a minute too soon.

Don’t get me wrong. We have a lot for which to thank the green movement that arose in force during the Sixties. Without towering achievements like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and countless other federal, state and local reinings-in of pollution, waste, and annihilation of habitat supporting biodiversity, our world would be vastly worse off.

Unfortunately, like so much that arose out of the Sixties, the era of environmental activism that is now passing away was based more on romantic notions than on practical and scientific realities. And now that time has moved on and younger generations do not, by and large, share those same romantic notions, we are threatened with a future in which protection and stewardship of the environment will dwindle as public support is lost.

Though there were certainly scientific reasons for the concerns being expressed by such Boomer-era environmental drivers as Rachel Carson and the David Brower-era Sierra Club, their articulated arguments were not couched in those terms. They were emotional appeals. Those coffee-table books featuring magnificent, endangered landscapes and adorable or noble charismatic species struck a chord in a Cold War public increasingly aware of the dark side of advancing technological progress, and painted a Muir-style romantic image of “Nature” as Out There: in the wild lands, far from humans, precious and endangered. As a result, millions of acres were protected as federal and state lands and parks. Nature-lovers flocked to hike, backpack, raft and otherwise enjoy these wild places.

There were those who loved and romanticized Nature prior to the 1960s, of course. But they were few, and viewed as cranks. Their signature, remarkable accomplishment was the invention of the national park, for which we must be ever grateful. But they were not a mass movement until a poetic idea of the Earth as a beloved, unified entity–what some claimed is even a single, intelligent organism–seized the imaginations of young people in reaction against their parents’ technologically enthusiastic, militaristic consumer society in the late 1960s, surging into the public imagination with the first full-Earth pictures relayed back by Apollo 8.

While there is certainly plenty of truth to describing wild lands as magnificent and rich with the fabric of life, it also had the effect of defining “the environment” as Somewhere Out There…rather than here, around us, all the time. By falling in line with the Sixties’ counterculture’s anti-societal ethos and evoking a romantic idea of Simpler Olden Times When Humans Lived More In Harmony With The Earth (particularly, lionizing with grossly oversimplified stereotypes the lifeways of native peoples) the environmental movement that rose to effective power at the end of the 1960s was the age-old-story of Man Against Nature, but rooting for the other team. It was the romantic mentality of the “back-to-the-landers”, rendered as a social movement.

Exacerbating this problem for us today is that one of the primary cultural legacies of the Sixties has been a wholesale cultural turning away from reason and science, suspiciously viewing these as the modalities and tools of authoritarian institutions, corporate greed, and engineered destruction. As a result, we have seen both on the left and right a tremendous surge in superstition, confirmation bias, junk, fringe- and pseudoscience accepted as fact, and paranoid conspiracy theories…be they about President Obama’s birth certificate, or the mortal dangers of water fluoridation.

Now, this is not to say that the modern environmental movement does not include many who are scientifically educated and literate, and who use the best available information in crafting proposed actions and policies. But this group tends to operate within institutions like established wildlife habitat restoration and land conservation organizations, academic institutions and policy think tanks. These informed and careful experts are often out of step, however, and even sometimes attacked by less educated grassroots activists, because they do not provide support for these activists’ more extreme theories.

The True Believers of the Sixties are fading away. Muir/Thoreau/Abbey-style Nature romantics who frame every proposal they don’t like as an environmental disaster belong to a generation now averaging over 60 years old, and their values have not penetrated to the youth of today. If theirs is the modality of operation and the mentality we continue to call “environmentalism”, environmentalism will die as a significant political and social movement.

Today’s generation does not view technology with suspicion. It spends most of its life engaging with it and interacting through it. Whether or not we want to face it, today’s youth feels little motivation to put on a backpack and hit the trail. Attendance at state and national parks has plummeted, and when you look at the number of people going to the back country, it is even lower. Those who do are overwhelmingly older, rather than younger.

The transition isn’t just in relation to technology. It’s demographic: a whole lot more of today’s young people come from backgrounds other than the white middle class suburbia from which most Boomer-generation environmentalists emerged. That’s just a fact.

Rather than beating the dead horse of values the young mostly do not share, if we want advocacy for the environment to persist it will have to become relevant to them. Environmentalism must evolve, or it will die.

Central to that evolution must be heightened emphasis on ecosystem services such as integrity of food webs and biodiversity, carbon sequestration, watershed function and other operations of the natural world which have a direct nexus with human needs, as opposed to wilderness preservation in remote areas. We all need to eat. We all need to breathe. We can still advocate for preserving wilderness from the standpoint of watershed functions, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, etc., but if our talk continues to be rooted in Muir/Brower “glory of Nature” rhetoric and the expectation we can lure popular support with the prospect of wilderness recreation opportunities that fewer and fewer of us are seeking, we’re going nowhere.

And, fellow greenies, we also have to stop indulging or participating in so-called “environmentalism” that is really just self-interested obstructionism. We need to call out the difference when opponents of change (and it is always opponents, not proponents, isn’t it?)  use environmental protection laws as a cudgel. We need to distance ourselves from fringe- and pseudoscience. We need to accept that all actions have impacts, and that this alone is not an argument never to do anything. The question is what will be impacted, and the significance of that impact. If the debate at hand is about which store goes into an already-existing mall, it’s up to us to point out that there may be reasons to oppose the project, but they are not environmental reasons.

Environmental reasons are rooted in air, water and soil quality; biodiversity; minimizing waste; efficient use of resources such as energy and water, and moving toward lower-impact ways of sustaining ourselves. That’s all.  Fighting a multi-family in-fill housing project in your neighborhood when what you really care about is parking convenience and the prospect that (gasp!) some brown people might try to live near you isn’t environmentalism. Opposing a more natural flow regime in managing a dam and claiming your concern is for fish and wildlife–when what you’re really concerned about is tourism-related business downstream–isn’t environmentalism.

In my home town a few years ago, a specific plan–mind you, just a plan, not a project–was proposed which would have set standards for developing mixed-use, higher density, transit and pedestrian-friendly projects in an area adjacent to the downtown, on lands currently occupied by decaying light industrial buildings.

The town went berserk. And self-styled “environmentalists” killed the plan.

Now, by no stretch of the imagination was theirs an effort in defense of or to augment the natural world. The existing policies applying to the area allowed more filling of nearby wetlands than did the proposed ones. Residents of the housing units would have been within walking distance of three grocery stores, a drug store, a farmers market, a post office, a movie theater, shops and restaurants and the town’s hub for regional transit. They would have been able to live a nearly car-free lifestyle. Everything about the plan was the kind of thing environmentalists around here say they support.

But only, apparently, if it is built somewhere else.

We have to stop this, folks. It’s shameful. Because what we’re showing the next generation is an “environmentalism” that lies about its real motivations while claiming to speak for the Earth in romantic, unreasonable, technophobic and often hysterically irrational terms.

There are projects well worth opposing. There are areas that should be protected rather than being allowed to intensify in land use. Zoning, land use, water and transportation planning and enforcement are good things. But they are abused every  bit as much when they are twisted to prevent change out of knee-jerk, reactionary opposition to anything new as they are when policy makers rubber-stamp exceptions to them to allow destructive activities to go forward.

We environmentalists were among the first to recognize the very serious problems homo sapiens was creating by fouling its nest. We bear a responsibility to be problem-solvers rather than reactionaries, to accept that some of our comforts are probably going to have to be let go for the greater good. Environmentalism can no longer be a luxury of the privileged, nor a movement primarily focused on defending that luxury. We have to make caring about the biosphere a practical, common-good ethos that includes a place for those who are never going to go backpacking, couldn’t care less whether there continue to be polar bears, and are not afraid of cell phone towers.

We are in the Earth and of the Earth. Our task is to figure out how to keep the biosphere livable for humanity–all of humanity–and for as rich a diversity of organisms as is practically possible.

Note the “practically”.

We must be thoughtful, well-informed, realistic, and embrace positive change. And we must distance ourselves from those who do not meet that standard but claim our mantle.

We must evolve, before we die.

 At publication, the Dragon was TELLING IT LIKE IT IS

Oct 242012
 

Hurry up, please, gentlemen, ladies: it’s time.

Here…let me get the good stuff from under the bar and pour you a shot. This is serious work, this democracy.

Every couple of years, as the elections approach, a number of my friends ask my opinions about candidates and ballot measures. Now I have an online megaphone, so those suggestions go here, for what they’re worth.

There are gaps here. I haven’t paid as much attention to Sonoma County municipal races this cycle, for instance, and will not endorse where I don’t feel I know what I’m talking about.

Federal Offices

For President of the United States: BARACK OBAMA. This is such a no-brainer I don’t feel I need to say more. If you have questions about this endorsement…well, wake the hell up, for one thing. But you could also look around this site for other posts on the race.

For U.S. Senator: NO ENDORSEMENT. Dianne Feinstein is going to mop the floor with the Republican nominee, and given that, I can’t bring myself to put my name behind hers. She’s just been wrong so very often. Though I feel confident she would never have followed the California GOP down the Tea Party rabbit hole, I have always believed that if Feinstein had emerged from any other California political context than the San Francisco Bay Area, she would have been a Republican.

For U.S. House of Representatives, 2nd District: JARED HUFFMAN Jared is the real deal. He has progressive values, a sterling voting record in the State Legislature (particularly on environmental issues), and a demonstrated ability to shepherd good ideas into law. Jared is not a symbolic-gesture guy; he’s a make-it-happen guy with a strong, liberal set of core principles. We will be lucky to have him representing us in Congress. (Disclosure: I did some work for Jared’s campaign this spring)

For U.S. House of Representatives, 5th District: MIKE THOMPSON. Thompson is one of the House of Representatives’ last surviving Blue Dogs, an effective campaigner, and in a safe seat: he’s not going anywhere. On most issues, he’s been a reliably good Democratic vote. However, I will say that I have consistently been disappointed by his reflexive water-carrying for the wine industry, which has led him to position himself against policies that would be best for our watersheds, wildlife, and groundwater. At the end of the day, he is a vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker, and that is enough for this cycle.

State Offices

For California State Senate, District 3:  LOIS WOLK. A solid Democrat in every sense of the term, with a great record on environmental and social issues.

For California State Assembly, District 2:  WES CHESBRO. Chesbro is an experienced Sacramento hand, an effective legislator and a rock-solid vote on environmental issues, particularly in relation to solid waste and recycling. Hailing from Arcata, he served at both the municipal and county levels and has a good grasp of the challenges facing local governments.

For California State Assembly, District 10:  MICHAEL ALLEN.
I’ve known Michael for quite awhile, and he’s a solid advocate for working people and the disenfranchised. His voting record in the Assembly has been great. He made a couple of boneheaded misjudgments in the past year, frankly, but particularly when looking at the rogues’ gallery that is funding his opponent, Mark Levine, it’s pretty clear who the good guy is here. An easy call.

(State ballot propositions below)

Sonoma County Offices

For Sonoma County Supervisor, District 1: SUSAN GORIN.

I’ve known and worked with Susan since before she went onto the Santa Rosa City Council. She is a thoughtful, open-minded, public-spirited person who cares about the interests and quality of life of ordinary people and Sonoma County residents. I do not believe the same can be said of her opponent, John Sawyer, who during his tenure on the Council has been prickly, inaccessible to citizens who don’t have insider juice, dismissive of environmental and neighborhood concerns, and a guaranteed vote for whatever the development community happens to be pushing this week.

This endorsement is not a close call. Sawyer has received nearly $50,000 in donations from a realtors’ PAC in Los Angeles, and is backed by the usual self-interested gang of grind-Paradise-into-money kingmakers who fancy themselves the owners of Sonoma County. Having him on the Board of Supervisors would be a huge step backwards in the effort to safeguard Sonoma County’s future. He’s the wrong man for the job. Vote for Susan Gorin.

Municipal Elections

Cotati

City Council: JOHN DELL’OSSO. A park ranger and longtime terrific vote on the City Council. An asset to the City.

Measure U (Bans Roundabouts): NO. Reeeeeeaaally dumb idea. Roundabouts are cheaper than traffic lights and actually facilitate traffic flow-through faster than traditional metered intersections. This measure is entirely a fear-of-the-new thing. Dump it.

Healdsburg

City Council: TOM CHAMBERS. I may not agree with Mr. Chambers about everything, but I think his heart is in the right place and he brings a collegial tone to city deliberations. He deserves another term. I also encourage you not to vote for Gary Plass, who has been a terrible vote on the Council and seems to see his job as facilitating as much building as possible.

Measure W (Reauthorizes Urban Growth Boundary for another 20 years): YES. One of the proudest accomplishments of my career was Conservation Action’s involvement in passing UGB measures throughout the county in the 1990s. They’ve worked: they’ve reined in urban sprawl, and they’ve forced cities to make better planning decisions. Santa Rosa and Petaluma have already extended their UGBs for another 20 years; Healdsburg should join them.

Petaluma

City Council: NO ENDORSEMENTS, but don’t vote for Mike Healy or Gabe Kearney. Both have been simply terrible.

Measure X (Park & Recreation Projects): YES

Santa Rosa

City Council: CAROLINE BANUELOS, JULIE COMBS and GARY WYSOCKY. Yes, there are four seats open. I encourage you only to cast three votes. These are three candidates who will genuinely represent the people of Santa Rosa, rather than its entrenched interests and their own ambitions. Particularly, I encourage that you don’t vote for Ernesto Olivares, who has been a terrible vote and dismissively divisive on the Council, or for Erin Carlstrom, who claims to be running as a progressive but cut a mutual-endorsement deal with Olivares, helping him to green up his image while advancing her own prospects and signalling to Santa Rosa’s Powers That Be that she is willing to play ball with them. I tend to vote values over ambition, so: Banuelos, Combs, Wysocky.

Measure Q (District Elections): YES! Read this for my analysis

Sebastopol

City Council: JOHN EDER. Eder served on the Cotati City Council with a great voting record, and I’m confident in supporting him in his new—but quite similar in size—municipal home. I don’t know any of the others well enough to make a call, with two exceptions, who I recommend you do not support: Kathy Austin, who was a terrible vote on the City Council previously, or Colleen Fernald, who…well, put it this way, seems to live on a very different planet than I do.

Measure Y (temporary sales tax increase): YES. Sebastopol has cut as much as it possibly can from municipal spending. It needs more revenue simply in order to deliver basic services. It’s a tiny town, with a tiny tax base, and needs this temporary boost.

I know that’s only 5 out of the county’s 9 cities, but I don’t feel I know enough about what’s happening in Cloverdale and Sonoma, and Rohnert Park and Windsor don’t have City Council elections this year, because only as many candidates declared as there are seats available.

State Ballot Propositions

Proposition 30: YES. This is the real increase-state-revenue-for-education&c-by-slightly-increasing-taxes-on-the-wealthy measure. Prop. 38 is the fake one.

Proposition 31: NO. A two-year budget cycle is a good idea, but the zero-sum requirement for all expenditures of $25 million or more, additional gubernatorial powers make it clear that this is yet another attempt right-wing attempt to tie the hands of the state government to gather revenue and deliver services. I was initially fooled by this thing, and a reader brought it to my attention. Vote no.

Proposition 32: NO NO NO NO NO. This is a power grab by corporations and the Republican Party to try to take away the last deep-pocket source of campaign funding for Democrats (from unions)…leaving the field to corporate spending under Citizens United. It is a terrible idea and needs to get spanked at the polls.

Proposition 33: NO. California’s regime of watchdogging the auto insurance industry is one 0f the best in the nation, and this proposition is a push by auto insurers to pull its fangs. It will result in higher rates, more uninsured drivers, and less public accountability for insurers.

Proposition 34: YES. Whatever you think about its morality, the death penalty doesn’t work. It doesn’t deter crime, it costs taxpayers a fortune, and it is inevitably applied disproportionately to the poor and minorities who don’t have access to top-drawer legal protections. States kill innocent people when they have the death penalty. Let’s stop, save ourselves some cash, and be better able to look ourselves in the mirror.

Proposition 35: NO. This measure isn’t really about human trafficking. The effect of the measure would be to turn law enforcement against prostitution into another drug war, complete with asset seizure, which creates incentive for police corruption. It so broadly expands the definition of pimping that those even remotely connected with a person arrested for prostitution—landlords, roommates, children, parents—could and would be ensnared…and then it brands those people as sex offenders forever, including controlling and monitoring their use of the internet. Headline-chasing prosecutors and police departments who want to seize houses, cars, and other assets are drooling over the prospect of this passing. Yes: forced sex work is a problem. This is not a solution.

Proposition 36: YES. The “Three Strikes” law, like nearly all rage- and fear-driven public policy, is a serious mistake. It destroys lives over small offenses, and because those it affects are nearly all poor, no one speaks for them. This measure corrects many of the wrongheaded ideas in the original measure.

Proposition 37: YES.  How, exactly, is it harmful to let people know the content of their food? Enough said.

Proposition 38: NO.  This is the wealthy pushback against Prop. 30, choosing to raise additional revenue by instead drawing nearly all increased state tax from middle class taxpayers instead of the undertaxed rich. It contains a provision that says we can’t amend it—even with another proposition—until 2024. It’s a scam. Vote no.

Proposition 39: YES. This measure raises an additional $1 billion annually by ending a backroom, sweetheart deal for out-of-state corporations that was a part of the 2009 budget deal. Also funds some energy efficiency programs. We need the money, and the deal was a bad one. You can tell by the hysterical tone of the arguments against this in the voters’ pamphlet that they are blowing smoke.

Proposition 40: YES. There is no longer organized opposition to this measure. It ratifies the new State Senate districts, and keeps in place our new nonpartisan redistricting system, which seems, so far, to be working.

Sep 262012
 

This is the second installment of a multi-part history of Sonoma County Conservation Action, a political organization I helped to form and lead. The first part is here.

Pitch and Launch

When I returned to San Francisco at the end of 1990, I called Bill Kortum and proposed that we launch what would turn out to be the first county-scale, locally-focused canvass organizing operation in the country. I was 29.

Bill was still interested in the idea. He convened a meeting of local activists at his home—as I recall, it was Bill, Dick Day, Len Swenson, Juliana Doms, and Bob Higham—and I presented my idea to them. While by no means convinced, they were intrigued. They, after all, hadn’t seen what a canvass could do, as Bill and I had. Still, they respected Bill tremendously. Maybe he and the kid were onto something.

Bill began raising seed money while I prepared to move back to Sonoma County. An initial board of directors was convened comprised of Bill, Dick, Juliana, Allen James of Windsor, and Joan Vilms of Santa Rosa. They approved the name I proposed for the organization: Sonoma County Conservation Action.

By April of 1991, I was again living in Santa Rosa, had found office space, had a logo designed, secured workers’ comp and liability insurance, and was busily creating the forms, operating procedures, employee manual, canvassing and training materials, and accounting and information management systems necessary to administer the new organization. Bill and Lucy Kortum donated a computer: a Macintosh 512k that had been upgraded to a Mac Plus; it was already a museum piece by that time. Les and Audrey Ayres donated the first canvass car: a  red 1974 Volvo station wagon. If there had been any doubt that this was a grassroots, bootstrap effort, the car and computer put that to rest.

Then it was just a matter of building a canvass crew. Which, for those who haven’t done it, is a near-Herculean task. Canvassing is stressful, poorly paid, and requires a person who is intelligent, articulate, personable, and able to let a great deal of rejection roll off her or his back. During my tenure, we had 32 canvass applicants for every one who successfully completed the three stages of application and training to become a Conservation Action staff member. That’s a lot of time and energy invested in interviewing and training people who end up falling short, but it’s how you build an effective organizing team.

On September 9, 1991, trainee Lew Brown by my side, I stepped up to a house on the corner of Starburst Ct. and Starr Road in Windsor, knocked, and recruited the first member of Conservation Action.

Walking down the driveway filling out my stats sheet, I remember thinking, that woman just wrote a $25 check to an organization that only exists on paper, with the promise of a newsletter, a report card on local officials, and election endorsements, none of which yet exist. All because she supports a vision of democracy, public participation, and loyalty to what makes this place so special.

…This can work.

Soon, Lew (who had prior canvassing experience) would successfully complete training to become my first field manager. The days were packed: Mornings, I interviewed applicants and scheduled training days; evenings, I took out new trainees to canvass. I kept up with accounting and data entry after our return to the office. We were on our way.

SCCA’s very first campaign opposed the proposed incorporation of Windsor, a suburban-density region of the county between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. The development/Chamber of Commerce crowd were all for it, and with good reason: the transition terms the county was offering to the prospective new city were so meager—and the area’s tax base was so small—that if incorporated, the new city would have been the land use equivalent of a crack baby, dependent on constantly approving more development in order to generate permitting fees to pay its bills.

We campaigned hard with our little crew, built a Windsor membership of hundreds of households, and heard strong support for our slow growth message. But many voters felt that the county had betrayed and ignored them, and believed they would have a better chance with local control. We lost.

Ironically, it turned out that though we couldn’t have known it, we were on the wrong side. The newly incorporated Town of Windsor sued the county over its transition terms, and they won, giving the new Town much more favorable conditions for getting up on its feet. By 1996, when SCCA-backed candidates took a majority on the Town Council, Windsor was on its way to becoming what is arguably the most forward-thinking, environmentally-oriented municipality in Sonoma County from a land use standpoint, with a revitalized “smart growth” downtown, a tightly drawn Urban Growth Boundary, and growth management and design ordinances to make growth orderly, more compact, reasonably paced, and attractive.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Despite falling short, we could see that our program had frightened and confused the political establishment in Windsor. The press rhetoric of the pro-incorporation campaign about Conservation Action’s canvassing grew increasingly hysterical as what they thought was a slam dunk became a competitive election. We even caught one candidate for the Town Council stealing anti-incorporation lawn signs and stashing them in the pro-incorporation office. We called the cops; she drove away before they could get there.

Those who were accustomed to calling the shots in local politics clearly did not understand the new phenomenon. They believed that if they smeared us in the press and ignored us politically, our public support would dwindle, and we would disappear.

Mobilizing the Grassroots Voice

Following the November 1991 special election in Windsor, Conservation Action launched its first letter-writing campaign, mobilizing hundreds of letters from Petaluma residents to the state Public Utilities Commission in opposition to their city’s plan to privatize its sewer system and wastewater treatment and eliminate public regulation of utility rates. Though Petaluma’s City Council, City Manager and prospective builders and managers of the proposed system had pulled out every political stop, the PUC agreed with the citizens expressing opposition, and denied Petaluma’s application to privatize.

Times were different then: Petaluma didn’t have a single City Council member who voted well on environmental issues, so what we knew about the buzz among political insiders came second-hand. But we understood it was growing. Who are these people, and what can we do about them?

But then, as it turned out, we seemed to go away. Things went back to business as usual for awhile.

Next: A Shocking Result