Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wildlife seen, heard, and heard about

Last week I saw a bobcat crossing Charleston-Volcano Road. It was the first one I'd seen in nearly two years, and only the fourth one I've seen in nearly 29 years of living in Amador County.

Our saw-whet owl is back. And this morning, the dawn chorus of birds was nearly overwhelming. Spring is certainly here now, in spite of that strong freeze we had last weekend.

This evening, I heard from a neighbor that we have a mountain lion visiting the neighborhood. He heard it near his barn. Another neighbor saw and heard it, too.

We'll watch and listen for it now.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tell the County What You Think

Update, April 27: The results of the survey discussed below are now online.

Thursday night will mark the last meeting of the Amador County General Plan Advisory Committee. I serve on that committee as Foothill Conservancy's alternate member. For 18 months, we've been discussing numerous issues that are critical to the future of our county.

Before we had a break this winter, I characterized the process as the "General Plan Death March." With some exceptions, it has seemed that keeping to the schedule and moving things along was more important to the county than coming up with a quality plan.

I've also been very frustrated by the lack of effort to secure meaningful public participation in the general plan update. Most recently, the county put out a survey on the draft land use elements of the general plan and posted it on the county website. It was anything but user friendly.

There's an alternative survey out now -- the Citizens' Survey on Amador County Growth and Development . It was posted online today. The survey is cosponsored by individuals, Valleyoaks Vineyards, West Point Publishing, Amador Community News, and Foothill Conservancy.

The survey will be available online for a limited amount of time. If you want to weigh in and you haven't been able to attend those Thursday night GPAC meetings, now's your chance.

The general plan will move to the planning commission and supervisors next.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Some Thoughts on Green

I attended the Green California Summit last week. It focused primarily on green building, but also on the business and economic opportunities that come with a move to sustainability. Here are a few thoughts based on something I sent off to Carol Harper at the Amador Community Network last week. More to follow soon ...

Business is going "green" -- not because business people are soft-headed do-gooders, but because it makes dollars and sense. Companies that have sustainability strategies are becoming more profitable than those that don't. They are wasting less, spending less on energy and becoming more much efficient. Large insurance companies and the finance industry are starting to be a big force in the push for sustainable business because those businesses have less associated risk.

"Green building" is here to stay. Again, it makes economic sense. It also creates better living and working spaces for people. Commercial real estate people are seeing real demand from tenants for green commercial space. People want greener homes. Kids do better in green schools. Some of the large California commercial builders are starting to do everything to green standards, including the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.

"Green tech" may make our U.S. economy competitive again. We have the best innovators here, the best minds -- and they are creating new products, new ways of doing business, and "green-collar" jobs. Smart communities are focusing on green tech as part of their economic development strategies and making sure they have education and training available for the new generation of green-collar workers. A community college here -- long a dream of many locals -- could serve that function for us.

Planning has a big role to play in creating a sustainable future. It is not sustainable to have to drive a car for miles to do every last thing -- go to school, go to a job, go shopping, etc. Walkable communities like those we love in our small historic towns are our future. They are more environmentally sustainable than sprawl and healthier places to live, too. Advocates of smart growth have been saying this for some time. Now, the respected U.S Green Building Council is working on LEED standards for neighborhood design.

Even if we can afford gasoline, once supplies of oil start running out (which they may be already), we are going to have to wean ourselves off it, and fast. Fortunately, there is huge progress being made on alternative fuels, but not all alternatives are sustainable -- for example, cutting down the Amazon rain forest to grow corn for ethanol or destroying SE Asian rain forests to create palm oil plantations.

Saving energy community-wide can free up a lot of money in the local economy. If people are paying less to PG&E every month, they have more to spend in local businesses. See this tool, created several years ago.

People need to learn from nature. Nature buys local. Nature recycles its own waste. Nature often makes products very efficiently. Nature uses advanced technology. Defective products are, in the words of Green Summit keynote speaker Hunter Lovins, '"recalled by the manufacturer."

Green is mainstream. And as a couple of speakers said, "There is green in green." Those who think otherwise are likely to be left behind as companies and communities focus on finding new ways to do business, live, create jobs, and build wealth.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Elections around the corner

The Amador County supervisor races are just starting to heat up. It'll be an interesting year, with four candidates running for the seat being vacated by Rich Escamilla and one challenger taking on Louis Boitano.

I saw a candidate on TSPN's website the other day. He seemed nice enough, but didn't even begin to discuss where he stands on the important issues facing our county today. I hope that's not a trend.

The public is not well-served when candidates speak only in vague generalities and refuse to tell us what they think about critical issues. It's not that I expect them to have fully formed positions on everything -- and one can only hope they'll remain open-minded enough to listen to their constituents. But I do think they ought to tell us what they plan to do, and how.

Of course, then the voters can hold them accountable later -- and it means they have to stand for something, too. But isn't that what elections are all about?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

As April begins

As April begins, there is good news. The flowers are starting to bloom on Electra Road. The poppies are lovely now, and the bush lupine should be fabulous in a week or two. A few phacelia are joining in, and the alders are leafing out in the green that simply shouts "Spring." It is a lovely place to drive, walk, or sit and watch the Mokelumne flow by. And the black phoebes that live at Electra year 'round will keep you company.

Then there is bad news. SPI is trying to abandon the local rail line -- the former home of the Amador Central Railroad. Once abandoned, rail lines do not come back -- ever. It would be a true tragedy for our community to lose that possible rail link to points west.

To make things worse, Amador County Transportation Commission staff say that part of the rail line should be abandoned to make way for a road through Martell! A road. Incredible. They say that if the Wicklow Way and Gold Rush projects are developed, building a new road through Martell on the rail line would save millions and help with local traffic. That might be true for a while -- but only until the next big project comes along and further clogs our roads.

Lousy subdivisions are one thing, but giving up a rail line for the traffic they will bring is the height of folly.

We need to join with the Amador Historical Society on this one and keep that rail line intact. Bad enough that SPI is clearcutting our forests. Now they want to strip us of our history, too.