Smoking is a bad Habit

One of Stockton’s newest burger joints appears to have a smoking problem.

While the line out the door most evenings suggests folks love The Habit (my wife is one of them), not everyone is as enthusiastic about the cloud of smoke that often wafts from a rooftop vent.

At times, the smoke drifts south across March Lane, appearing almost like a fine mist.

“It’s so bad, I have to put the window up,” said one caller who did not give his name.

The burgers may be good, he said, “But those guys should be conscientious about society, too.”

Anthony Presto, a spokesman for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, told me earlier this month that the district has received complaints about the smoke.

Similar restaurants that have older chain-driven charbroilers are regulated by the district, but establishments with so-called underfired charbroilers — including The Habit — are not, Presto said.

The district declined to regulate those restaurants back in 2009, after restaurant owners argued they could not afford expensive new devices to capture the microscopic specks of grease that escape into the atmosphere while meat sizzles away on the grill.

Nearly 2,500 commercial charbroilers in the Valley serve up more than 75,000 tons of meat each year, spewing more than 900 tons of pollution, the district reported at the time. A district representative in 2009 said that emissions from those restaurants causes a serious health risk not unlike chimney smoke.

Presto said air quality officials are working with The Habit on installing technology to reduce those emissions.

“They’ve been very cooperative,” he said.

Matt Hood, a spokesman for the Irvine-based chain, described that technology as “a collaborative program to install a new exhaust system” at the restaurant.

“The Habit restaurant in Stockton is one of our busier locations and we have really enjoyed the way the community has welcomed us there,” Hood wrote in an email.

“With it being such a busy restaurant we char-grill a lot of burgers over an open flame and that creates some smoke emissions… We have been working (with the air district) to source a control unit that will help reduce emissions and still handle the amount of guests we serve every day.”

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Stockton East’s giant ‘swimming pool’

‘Stockton East now ‘swimming’ in storage,’ sang the headline in Monday’s Record.

Well, kinda. But I probably should have emphasized higher up in that story that the district’s new 10 million-gallon reservoir, which General Manager Scot Moody jokingly referred to as a giant swimming pool, doesn’t come anywhere near solving the region’s future water supply challenges.

See, in the water world, when you describe something in gallons it always sounds impressive. Ten million. Oooh.

Convert it to acre-feet, however, and you realize that 10 million gallons is only about 30 acre-feet. That’s enough water for about 30 typical families for a year.

Stockton’s annual demand is about 73,886 acre-feet. That’s 202 acre-feet per day on average. So, in theory, 30 acre-feet will keep the city wet for, oh, almost four hours.

And that’s just using current demand estimates. Demand will go up as the population grows. The city will need more than 113,000 acre-feet of water by 2035, according to this report (see page 3).

No, the new reservoir does not equal a tremendous increase in storage. It does give officials more flexibility in how they operate the system, since Stockton East now has not one but two of these large tanks. If one of them springs a leak, the district can continue to operate its treatment plant, feeding into the other reservoir instead.

While the new reservoir will be helpful, the real challenge for Stockton East and other eastside water users is to find ways to put surface water into the ground, adding to our emergency water “savings account” of sorts. There’s enough room down there to store another Folsom Lake, after all.

Those efforts continue.

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Another hyacinth plan hatches

The Calaveras River, as seen looking east from the Stockton Yacht Club on Monday.

Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva met with the state Division of Boating and Waterways today, and reports that the state is considering using small boats to push the water hyacinth into areas where excavators could pluck the plant out of the water.

But Silva emphasized that more spraying is needed to minimize next year’s crop.

The mayor’s full comments:

“Had a meeting with their deputy executive director and their program manager of science… They told me that there are three plants… and all three are posing a difficult challenge for them.

“The water hyacinth is obviously from South America but the conditions here in the Delta are optimal for their growth — plenty of sunshine and this year we have very shallow and warmer waters.

“They sprayed the water hyacinth in the downtown water channel last Thursday and Friday and within 10 days the water hyacinth will sink to the bottom. They are also looking at developing a plan by which excavators would be used to pull out the hyacinth in large quantities and using smaller boats to push the plants to the excavation site.

“If they don’t spray the entire area before Nov. 30 then a flower will bloom on the top of the water hyacinth and it will drop seeds on the river bottom and then the next season when the Sun comes out it will grow more hyacinth. This is a huge problem because the radar systems on large ships see the water hyacinth as a large floating mass therefore they are dropping anchor well beyond the boundaries of the Port of Stockton and waiting until daylight to come in.”

That’s true. It happened today, in fact.

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Zombies, and other wholesome activities

Update: I’m told the REI class is no longer a zombie preparedness class, per se, but will cover the same kinds of urban/wilderness survival issues that might arise during an actual zombie apocalypse. So there.

Update II: Added Friends of the Lower Calaveras walk scheduled for Nov. 1.

The undead lead off this month’s list of outdoorsy, environment events and activities in and near San Joaquin County:

Tuesday, Oct. 28: Presentation, “Zombie Preparedness — Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse.” 7 p.m., Stockton REI.  Learn valuable surivval techniques that could save your life in any urban disaster or in the unlikely event of an attack from the undead. More details here.

Tuesday, Oct. 28: Stockton East Water District weekly board meeting. Noon, 6767 E. Main St., Stockton. Agenda available here.

Wednesday, Oct. 29: San Joaquin Bike Coalition’s weekly ride. 7 p.m. behind the Empire Theater in Stockton. Anyone with basic bike riding skills welcome. More details here.

Saturday, Nov. 1: Friends of the Lower Calaveras River hosts the latest in a series of “river walks” at the Old Dog Ranch. Birder David Yee will host the walk, sharing information about abundant birds on this rarely seen stretch of river. Meet at 8:30 a.m. at the ranch. Go east on Highway 26 past Linden and turn right on Escalon-Bellota Road. After crossing the river turn left on Sheldon. Go 3 miles and turn left at the “Old Dog Ranch” sign.

Saturday, Nov. 1: Organic produce stand open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at Boggs Tract Community Farm. Fruits, vegetables, eggs and honey available. 466 S. Ventura Avenue. More details here.

Saturday, Nov. 1: Eagles and osprey kayaking tour. 10 a.m., New Melones Lake Visitor Center. Paddle across the lake and up Coyote Creek to observe year-round raptors in the area. This is a four- to five-hour strenuous trip.  Call (209) 536-9094 ext. 236 to register.

Saturday, Nov. 1: Guided hike, Cosumnes River Preserve. Learn about the flora and fauna of the preserve on a 3-mile round-trip hike along raised levees. Meet at 9 a.m. at the visitor center deck. More details here.

Saturday, Nov. 1-Sunday, Nov. 2: Woodbridge Wilderness Area open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The area is typically open the first three weekends of each month. Explore a quarter-mile of Mokelumne River frontage. Free. More details here.

Saturday, Nov. 1-Sunday, Nov. 2: The season’s first sandhill crane tour at the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve west of Lodi. Tours offered first three weekends of each month from October through February. Registration required. More details here.

Sunday, Nov. 2: 20th anniversary celebration at Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge north of Stockton. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Live animals, bird-watching and a planting project. More details here.

Thursday, Nov. 6: Presentation, “Fitness Technology Basics.” 7 p.m., Stockton REI. Learn about how a speed and distance monitor or heart-rate monitor can help you track the length of your favorite trail run, the speed of your pace and how many calories you burned. More details here.

Friday, Nov. 7-Sunday, Nov. 9: Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival. Come celebrate one of the region’s most iconic species. More details here.

Saturday, Nov. 8: Calaveras River Fun Run/Walk 5K, a fundraiser for Restore the Delta and Students Run Stockton. 7 a.m. registration, 8 a.m. run begins. Start and finish at the University of the Pacific. For more details email

Saturday, Nov. 8: River walk bird survey, Cosumnes River Preserve. Stockton Audubon Society member Jim Rowoth will lead this walk through wetlands, riparian forest and grasslands. The walk is about 4 miles. More details here.

Saturday, Nov. 8: Docent-guided walk at Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. 9 a.m. Trail is 2 miles and leads to a wildlife viewing platform overlooking wetlands that host sandhill cranes and songbirds. More details here.

Saturday, Nov. 8: Electronic waste collection event hosted by Onsite Electronics Recycling. 9 a.m., San Joaquin Delta College Shima 2 parking lot. Other collections also planned elsewhere in San Joaquin County. More details here.

Sunday, Nov. 9: Special event, “Geocaching Tuttletown’s Trails” at New Melones Lake. Join a ranger to find hidden trinkets along the Tuttletown trails. The hike is about 3 miles round trip. Meet at the entrance station at 10 a.m. and bring a GPS.

Saturday, Nov. 15: Historic hike on the Melones Branch of the Sierra Railway. Learn about the historic route and discover how Melones Dam was built. The hike is about 4 miles. Meet at 10 a.m. at the Peoria Wildlife Equestrian Staging Area on Peoria Flat Road.

Tuesday, Nov. 18: Presentation, “Showshoeing Basics,” 7 p.m. at the Stockton REI. More details here.

Saturday, Nov. 22-Sunday, Nov. 23: Sandhill crane tours at Cosumnes River Preserve. Tours start at 3:30 p.m. each day. More details here.

Monday, Nov. 24: Sierra Club meeting, 7 p.m. at Central United Methodist Church. Topic: “Transportation in San Joaquin County.” Speaker is Nate Knodt from the San Joaquin Regional Transit District. More details here.

Saturday, Nov. 29: Stockton Astronomical Society hosts “Astronomy in the Park” at Oak Grove Regional Park. Event begins at sunset. Come peer through the telescopes of society members. Event is free but parking at Oak Grove costs $5 per vehicle. More details here.

Saturday, Nov. 29: Special event, “Mark Twain’s Trials, Tales and Trails” at New Melones Lake. Hike along the Sierra Railroad’s tracks that traverse the winding foothills from Angels Camp to Jamestown. It’s about a 2-mile hike. Meet at the New Melones visitor center at 10 a.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 9: Presentation, “Avalanche Awareness,” 7 p.m. at the Stockton REI. More details here.

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Legislators: Help us with hyacinth

Legislators from San Joaquin County today asked for federal help combatting the huge water hyacinth problem here.

In a letter to California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross, the legislators asked her to seek “sustained” funding from the federal government.

The request comes after the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded this region $750,000 earlier this year to seek a comprehensive solution. The legislators are essentially saying that more funding will be needed on an ongoing basis.

Read the letter.

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‘At best, a down payment on our water future’

The Pacific Institute issued a lukewarm report this morning about Proposition 1, the water bond on the November ballot.

While taking no formal position on the bond, the institute found that the bond “can be, at best, a down payment on our water future,” depending on how the money is spent, and warned that surely more investment will be necessary down the road.

Some highlights from the institute’s report:

• WHO PAYS?: The new bond will be funded by taxpayers, as opposed to those who directly benefit from whatever projects are build. That’s in contrast to the 1960 bond that paid for the construction of the State Water Project, money which came initially from the state’s general fund but was later repaid by project beneficiaries. Concerns about taxpayers footing the bill are “legitimate,” the institute found.

• GROWING DEBT: The size of water-related bonds has “increased dramatically.” Between 2000 and 2013, California voters approved six water-related bonds totaling $24.8 billion. November’s proposed bond is the fourth-largest in state history.

• BUT FOR CONTEXT: While California has the largest bond debt of all 50 states, on a per capita basis the state’s public debt in 2011 was about $4,000 per resident, ranking 21st in the U.S.

• WHAT GETS FUNDED?: Most of the money in the bond is dedicated to water storage, whether above- or below-ground. In fact, even though this bond is much smaller than its predecessor, the proportion of total funding for storage increased from 30 percent to 36 percent. “Far less” money is available in the new bond for recycling, stormwater capture or water efficiency projects, despite the fact that those strategies typically provide more water at a lower cost. “Funding for water conservation and efficiency is especially low,” the institute finds.

• ”TILT” TOWARD SURFACE STORAGE: When it comes to surface storage vs. groundwater storage, the categories of benefits that must be considered — including recreation — “are considered to be tilted toward favoring surface storage.”

• BANG FOR THE BUCK: Bond money will be doled out through a competitive grants process. However, “there is no requirement that all water supply options compete with one another” when it comes to cost effectiveness. In other words, a proposed dam doesn’t have to compete with new water conservation initiatives. “Thus, there is no assurance that the public is getting the greatest benefit from its investment.”

• TUNNEL TALK: Regarding the Delta tunnels: The bond won’t pay for them. “Proposition 1 does provide some funding for Delta habitat restoration, which is part of the cost of the overall Bay Delta Conservation (Plan) objectives, but this funding is far more limited than in the 2009 proposed bond, which included $1.5 billion explicitly for the BDCP.”

• NO QUICK FIX: Proposition 1 “will do little to alleviate the current drought.”

• MUCH-NEEDED HELP: The bond allocates “considerable funding” to disadvantaged communities — at least $696 million, or 9 percent of the total bond. Most of that money would be for drinking water or wastewater projects.

BOTTOM LINE: IF the bond passes, and IF the funds go to “effective projects,” and IF those projects are well-designed and implemented, “the long-term benefits could include a reduction in the risk of future droughts and floods as well as improvements in the health of California’s aquatic ecosystems.”

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Water and the economy, neck-and-neck

Some water highlights from the Public Policy Institute of California’s latest poll, released tonight:

–So much for “It’s the economy, stupid!” Water and the state’s economy are just about equally important in the eyes of the public, with 30 percent identifying the economy as the most important issue facing California and 28 percent identifying water or the drought. Four years ago the economy got a whopping 59 percent of that pie.

–Water issues are more closely watched this year than the governor’s race. Sixty-two percent said they were following water news “very closely” and another 30 percent were following water news “fairly closely.”

–Fifty-seven percent say the government isn’t doing enough about the drought. That number is even higher in the Central Valley — 62 percent.

–The water bond enjoys a healthy lead. Fifty-six percent of likely voters support Proposition 1, with 32 percent in opposition.

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Bill Wells: Hyacinth a ‘disaster,’ possible national security threat

Bill Wells, head of the California Delta Chamber & Visitors Bureau, wrote a letter today to California Resources Secretary John Laird about the worsening water hyacinth situation. Full text below.

Dear Secretary Laird,

The hyacinth situation in parts of the California Delta has become a disaster.  The navigable part of the Calaveras River is completely filled in with the pest as are Buckley Cove, Downtown Stockton harbor, Whiskey Slough, much of the San Joaquin River and many other areas — this is just a sampling.

This plant has gone from being a nuisance to now being a security and safety hazard,  it is killing fish and wildlife and is serving as a breeding ground for disease transmitting mosquitoes.   Boats cannot operate which has caused operations at many marinas to come to a standstill as well as preventing people from visiting waterside restaurants and businesses.  Law enforcement boats cannot travel through the hyacinth and this opens up a possible national security threat as terrorists could attack ships traveling up our rivers.

This has been a problem that has been developing for the last several years ever since Ray Tsuneyoshi left the Department of Boating and Waterways in 2010.  I am not going to discuss how the ball got dropped or how this problem could have been avoided but I urge you at this time to take decisive action to control the infestation.  The permitted pesticide spraying period ends on November 1st.  You need to free up every available resource to spray as much as possible between now and the first.  I recommend hiring outside contractors to help with the task.  Once the spraying period is over you need to move forward with an aggressive campaign of mechanical removal of the plant.  Once again this would probably involve outside contractors.

Many private businesses have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own funds to try to control the hyacinth but ultimately I feel the  responsibility for controlling the pest lies with the Natural Resources Agency.  It has been disappointing to me and many of my associates trying to report the problem over the last few years that the Department (now Division) of Boating and Waterways will never answer the phone or return a message.  It makes it appear that they do not want to address or solve the problem.  Let me emphasize to you that now it has reached the critical stage and with the plant being able to double in area in less than two weeks the time for action is today!   Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance.

Best Regards,

Bill Wells

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‘Almost somewhere’

Correction: Thursday’s presentation starts at 6:30 p.m., per REI’s website. I’ve updated this post as well.

If you’ve ever hiked one inch of the John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney — or if you’ve dreamed of hiking the whole thing — I highly recommend attending a talk Thursday night at Stockton REI.

Suzanne Roberts was fresh out of college when she hiked the trail 20 years ago with a couple of girlfriends. Roberts’ book, “Almost Somewhere,” chronicles the beauty and diversity of the trail, of course, but also the personal hardships that each young woman had to overcome along the way.

Check it out. Thursday’s presentation begins at 6:30 p.m.

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That’s California water for ya

San Joaquin County supervisors on Tuesday will declare this to be “California Flood Preparedness Week” and then, several agenda items later, will discuss the ongoing drought.

Reminds me of this recent story by my colleague Roger Phillips. At a meeting in September, the Stockton City Council approved almost $50,000 to repair rainwater damage at City Hall; almost simultaneously, the council approved new mandatory water conservation rules for Stockton residents.

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    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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