Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A momentous day

Yesterday was a remarkable day.

In Amador County, the Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to oppose the proposed expansion of Pardee Reservoir. They even said they'd oppose any other variation on a Pardee expansion if it had the same impacts as East Bay MUD's current proposal.

I think it's the first time in the nearly 30 years I've lived here that our board of supervisors has actually voted in favor of protecting the Mokelumne River. I may be wrong, but I can't think of any other examples.

In making their decision, the supervisors resisted a full-court press from EBMUD, whose senior staff and board vice-president came to town last week to convince our local agencies to support their project.

At the same time yesterday, over in San Andreas, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors passed a motion that should lead to rejection of the proposed Trinitas project.

If you live in Amador, you may not have heard of Trinitas, but it's something else. The developer built a golf course illegally on Williamson Act ag land, destroying important habitat in the process. Then he came back with a request to operate the course commercially and add houses and other development.

Trinitas has been hugely controversial. And the proponents have done everything possible to win, from threatening lawsuits to hiring a PR firm to round up local supporters to using Christian graphics to give their project some sort of righteous air. Their law firm, by the way, is the same one representing the Gold Rush Ranch developers.

What do these votes have in common? First, they demonstrate that our supervisors can make good decisions that break with their history. Second, they show what people can do to help bring those good decisions about. Had there not been huge public outcry and organization around both of these bad projects -- Pardee expansion and Trinitas -- the outcome might well have been different.

So stand up and be proud, Amador and Calaveras citizens! Because you stood up, made an impassioned case based on strong facts, and didn't quit, we're just a bit closer to truly protecting our special natural places, communities, and quality of life.

Of course the Pardee fight's not over yet. EBMUD's board still has the final say. But step by step, we're getting there. And finally, the story's made the Bay Area press. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Electric Electra flowers

Today we went walking on Electra Road. The flowers are fantastic this year, and nearly at peak right now. Some things have yet to bloom, but the poppies and various kinds of lupine are fantastic.

We also saw blooming:
  • Phacelia (scorpion flower), lots and lots of phacelia
  • Popcorn flower (isn't it fabulous this year?)
  • Moth mullein, just starting
  • Dudleya
  • Globe lillies
  • Purple owl's clover
  • White owl's clover
  • Chinese houses
  • Jewel flower (streptanthus)
  • A couple of different pinks
  • A yellow composite
  • Fringe pod -- great year for that, too
  • Blue dicks
  • Two different onions, one blue, one white
  • Native clover
Plus others I now can't recall. Photos soon, but get out there and see it for yourself. Photos don't begin to do the riverside experience justice. You also need to hear the birds, the bugs, and of course, the river.

Meanwhile, here are some great photos by Dave Skinner of the Electra flowers and nearby poppies on Highway 49, which are now a bit past peak.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Wishful thinking on Gold Rush Ranch

It's hard to believe that local realtors and others really think approving the Gold Rush Ranch project will somehow boost our local economy in the short run (there are questions about the long run, too, but I'll ignore those for now).

Amador County isn't an economic island. We can't ignore state and national trends, including these:

-- Housing starts nationally in January and February were the lowest since before 1959, according to the Department of Commerce. Demand for new homes is way down.

-- The people who fueled our local housing bubble (and ensured home prices rose beyond what local working families could afford) were folks with large amounts of equity in their homes in urban parts of California. Now that the state real estate bubble has burst, there's no longer a big pool of equity-amenity refugees able to quickly cash out a home and move to the foothills.

-- Last year's gas prices (and increasing awareness of carbon footprints) caused commuters to think hard about how far they live from work. Long-distance commutes of the type common in the past will be less acceptable to homebuyers in the future. Homes in rural subdivisions built on a commuter-resident model are going to be less desirable than homes closer to jobs.

-- The stock market decline and resulting crash of 401(k) values, combined with declines in home equity, have led many people to delay their retirement by 3-5 years, or more. We won't be seeing as many people retiring in the next few years as once anticipated.

While people may once again start moving to the valley and foothills, it's going to take a while, according to the Sacramento Bee.

And in any case, a project approved now won't be built for some time. There are even approved subdivisions for sale locally.

We need to build our local economy, not more houses for people who don't already live here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A bright light out in the Range

It should be raining in the Sierra, for the Range of Light has lost one of its finest friends. Andrea Mead Lawrence of Mammoth Lakes passed away at home with family on Monday.

For those of us who knew and loved Andrea, the news is beyond sad. We knew her not only as someone of incredible achievement, but as a person of remarkable resilience, perseverance, and love of life. She was a big-picture thinker who could inspire others to join in her vision -- whether of a healthy, restored Sierra Nevada or a saved Bodie or a restored Mono Lake or sustainable communities or a regional organization to bring together everyone working for the Sierra.

Her passing is a time to reflect on all she brought to the region and to our lives. I don't know whether to work even harder on my conservation efforts today or go take a walk on the river with the wildflowers. I'll likely do both.

Ad Astra, Andrea!