‘Cash-for-grass’ pilot program in Stockton?

Tonight’s General Plan workshop didn’t produce a ton of news, though an official with the city’s Municipal Utilities Department did say the city is investigating a “cash for grass” program in which homeowners are compensated for removing water-guzzling turf from their yards.

Tony Tovar didn’t sound too optimistic about the idea, which has proven effective in Southern California during the drought.

He said it “might not be cost effective.”

“We’re going to start small,” he said.

Still, it sounds like something might be in the works.

As for the rest of the workshop, about 60 people attended this latest session, which focused on the city’s environmental needs. Local advocacy groups explained their positions at various tables and booths, followed by a panel discussion.

The majority of those who sat on the panel represented environmentalist, slow-growth or alternative transportation stakeholder groups. No developers participated; John Beckman, with the Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley, attended the meeting but told me that he wasn’t asked to speak.

The gist of what folks had to say:

• Tovar shared Stockton’s water conservation efforts this summer, including what he described as 15 percent, 14 percent and 8 percent savings in June, July and August, respectively, compared to the same months last year. He did not offer any theories as to why the city’s success tapered off substantially toward the end of the summer. “We have a strict and very aggressive water conservation program,” he said. Most of Tovar’s comments pertained not so much to the development of the city’s new general plan, but rather how Stockton will weather the drought.

• Kari McNickle, representing the San Joaquin Bike Coalition, talked about how even small lifestyle changes could help improve the city in years to come. She talked about the cost of driving a car, and the cost of the Valley’s enormous air-pollution problem ($12 a year on your DMV registration, and that’s just the beginning). She said the city can add amenities that will make it easier for people to make the decision to choose alternative transportation, and invited the public to “rediscover” their bicycles. “Come play ‘bikes’ with us,” she said. “Rediscover that childhood sense of wonder.”

• Eric Parfrey, with the Sierra Club, might not have had any developers to do battle with during Thursday’s discussion, but he managed some fiery rhetoric. He talked about “sustainability” as a buzzword. But the truth, according to Parfrey, is that Stockton grew “promiscuously” in the past. “We’ve simply sprawled out into prime farmland. We pollute the air, we pollute the water. We haven’t really done anything ‘sustainable,’” he said. The city cannot continue to sprawl and eat up farmland, and must do a better job planning for parks, trails and other open spaces, he said. Parfrey called for development of existing properties within the city’s footprint. “We have some wonderful neighborhoods in this town and we have to start revitalizing them,” he said, adding the city should ditch its “obsession” with large houses being built miles from downtown.

• San Joaquin County’s rivers were the focus of environmentalist Jeremy Terhune’s remarks. Two of the county’s four rivers, the San Joaquin and the Calaveras, run right through the middle of Stockton. “Frankly it’s appalling how we’ve treated these rivers,” Terhune said, from the proximity with which houses were built, to the levees “shaved” of all vegetation, to the frequent fish kills that happen almost every fall. The Calaveras should be a gem but instead looks “God-awful,” he said. “We just need to change our attitude,” Terhune said. “We’re the only waterfront in the Valley. Good God, let’s do something with that, please.”

• Hayden Logan III, with Stockton-based energy retrofit company Greener Solutions, talked about the importance of energy conservation (i.e., turning the lights off when you’re not using them) as opposed to energy generation (putting in solar panels, etc.), and said it was important to educate the public. Indeed, conservation seemed to be the common thread in all of the panelists remarks, he said. “Whatever we’ve done in the past, good bad or ugly, we have to look for changes because it didn’t work,” Logan said.

More general plan meetings will likely be held after the holidays, city officials said.

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Heat be damned; turn down those sprinklers

With another 90-plus degree day in Stockton today (perhaps our last?) it’s easy to imagine that many people are probably still running their sprinklers at July levels.

Not necessary, says Karrie Reid, an environmental horticulture advisor with the U.C. Cooperative Extension in Stockton.

“They should have already dialed back a little bit in September anyway,” Reid told me last week. “If they haven’t changed their settings since the middle of the summer, they need about half as much water as they do in July.”

Despite warm temperatures, days are getting shorter and the Sun is lower in the sky, making our lawns less thirsty.

Of course, it’s not quite time to turn off those sprinklers entirely, she said. We’ll need some rain first. But if you were watering four days a week at the peak of summer, you should be down to two days or perhaps one day.

“It’s a good message to get out to people,” she said.

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October Sky

U.S. Navy image of a lunar eclipse in March 2007

Doug Christensen, with the Stockton Astronomical Society, reminds me that Stockton will see two eclipses this month.

What is this, Tatooine?

Anyway, a total lunar eclipse will take place early Wednesday at the worst of all possible times — from about 3:25 a.m. until just after 4:20 a.m., Christensen said. That’s when the moon will be completely in the shadow of the Earth. The moon should glow red as light from the Sun pushes through the Earth’s atmosphere, reflecting every sunrise and sunset in the world off the lunar surface.

(Some folks call this a “Blood Moon,” but Christensen doesn’t like that term. “That is NOT astronomical terminology or a scientific one,” he writes. “It is a biblical prophesy term pertaining to the apocalypse.”)

The best part of the eclipse will take place when the moon begins to come out of the shadow of the Earth, at 4:24 a.m., he said. “Sunlight will again bounce off our celestial dance partner and we will see that bright flash… on the eastern limb of the moon,” Christensen writes. “Very dramatic.”

No public viewing events are planned. For one thing, it’s the dead of night; for another thing, no special equipment is needed. You don’t need astonomers like Christensen to enjoy this particular eclipse.

That’s not the case for the partial solar eclipse that will follow two weeks later, starting at 1:53 p.m. Oct. 23. This time it’ll be a portion of the Earth in the moon’s shadow.

Astronomical society volunteers will set up their telescopes with solar filters at Oak Grove Regional Park so that the public can safely enjoy the solar eclipse. As always, don’t stare directly at the Sun.

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Light the halo; fight the drought

I knew I had good taste in baseball.

With the playoffs beginning this week, I’m happy to report that my Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the United States are one four teams partnering with the Association of California Water Agencies and the state Department of Water Resources, urging fans to conserve water.

The Angels join the Giants, the A’s and the Padres in the effort.

Let’s see… who does that leave out?

Like I said, I knew I had good taste.

The campaign began in late July with promotional messages on each team’s English and Spanish radio network, as well as signs and messages within the stadiums themselves. At the “Big A,” the giant LED sign facing Highway 57 has been plastering passersby with reminders about the drought.

Pitcher Hector Santiago and outfielder Efron Navarro voiced the radio spots for the Angels.

Hey Stockton, this is good, right? These folks are drinking from the Delta. Let’s remind them to save water.

I just hope that after losing to Kansas City last night, the Angels can also save their season.

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What Tom can teach us

 

Candlelight vigil for Tom Kettleman, the turkey

Lodi’s outpouring of grief for Tom Kettleman, the wild turkey struck and killed by a car over the weekend, uplifts and upsets me at the same time.

On one hand, I’ve never seen such an intimate bond between the people of San Joaquin County and a wild creature that lives among us. We are surrounded by rich urban wildlife, most of which we take for granted. Tom’s gift to us, during his brief life, is that he compelled us to open our eyes and recognize we are part of something larger.

Then again, some seem to want to turn Tom into something he was not — a human being. How else can you explain the candlelight vigil held in his honor on Monday? Tom was a turkey. I must wonder if a vigil was held for 33-year-old Leticia Vizueth-Marquez, the woman stabbed to death in Lodi last week.

This will sound pompous. But wherever we live, let’s take the community love and support that manifested itself so clearly in Tom’s case, and also apply it to the many human victims of violence — victims who might otherwise be just as invisible to us as critters like Tom often are.

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Fish kill confirmed

It’s hardly news anymore, but Record photographer Craig Sanders has confirmed reports of a fish kill at the head of Smith Canal, at American Legion Park’s Yosemite Lake.

On Saturday Craig found perhaps several hundred shad floating dead in the water, on the north side of the lake near the pipe that pumps much of Stockton’s stormwater into the lake. However, Craig also saw shad swimming in the lake, so the carnage wasn’t absolute.

This is essentially an annual phenomenon after the first fall rains each year. We all share responsibility because we all, to some extent, contribute to stormwater pollution.

If nothing else, these dead fish are a reminder to do what we can by minimizing fertilizer/chemical use on our lawns, keeping our cars in good shape so they’re not leaking fluids everywhere we drive, and generally using common sense by realizing that the liquids that splash off our streets, sidewalks and driveways drain directly to rivers and streams without going through a treatment plant first.

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Delta commission silent on water bond

The Delta Protection Commission decided last week to stay neutral on the upcoming $7.5 billion water bond, a spokeswoman told me.

The decision was reached after a lengthy discussion at the commission’s meeting in Discovery Bay.

The commission’s neutrality on the bond is not surprising. While a majority of members most often agree on policy positions, particularly when it comes to protecting the Delta, they were not likely to agree on the current bond, which is supported by many local elected officials but opposed by Delta farmers.

Both of those groups are represented on the commission.

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What’s on tap — weekend of Sept. 27-28 and beyond

Saturday, Sept. 27: Free admission at Yosemite National Park and other federal parks, including New Hogan and New Melones lakes east of Stockton, and the parks on the Stanislaus River. This is in honor of National Public Lands Day. More details here.

Saturday, Sept. 27: 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, Sept. 27: Guided photo walk, Cosumnes River Preserve. One-mile loop trip takes visitors through wetlands and riparian forest. 7 a.m., visitor center. More details here.

Saturday, Sept. 27: Last summer paddle of the season at the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, west of Elk Grove. 9 a.m. This guided float wanders along a historically dredged area that is not normally open to the public. You might see river otters, egrets, herons, hawks, pelicans, beavers and pond turtles. Event is free. You must bring a canoe or kayak and a life jacket. More details here.

Saturday, Sept. 27: Stockton Astronomical Society presents “Astronomy in the Park.” Come to Oak Grove Regional Park and peer through the telescopes of society members. The public is welcome. Event starts after sunset, which is at 6:54 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept. 30: Stockton East Water District weekly board meeting. Noon, 6767 E. Main St., Stockton. Agenda available here.

Tuesday, Sept. 30: Presentation, “Best Local Fall Hikes.” 7 p.m., Stockton REI. More details here.

Wednesday, Oct. 1: 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, Oct. 4: Bee expert Julie Serences will present ”Conservation of Native Bees” at Calaveras Big Trees State Park.  Serences will talk about native bees’ role in pollinating native plants. 10 a.m. at Jack Knight Hall. Free with park entrance. More details here.

Saturday, Oct. 4-Sunday, Oct. 5: 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, Oct. 4-Sunday, Oct. 5: 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.

Saturday, Oct. 11: Guided walk at the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge west of Elk Grove. 9 a.m. to noon. Two-mile trail leads to wildlife viewing platform overlooking wetlands with sandhill crane,s shorebirds and songbirds. Additional walks planned throughout the fall and winter, including Sat. Oct. 25. More details here.

Saturday, Oct. 11: 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.

Tuesday, Oct. 14: Presentation, “Giant Sequoias: A Natural and Historic Legacy.” Hosted by the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club. 7:30 p.m., Central United Methodist Church. Author and Northern Arizona University biology professor Nancy Muleady will talk about the largest living things on earth, including the most recent research into these enduring giants. More details here.

Saturday, Oct. 18: Tall forest bird survey, Cosumnes River Preserve. This four- to five-mile hike wanders through the kind of riparian woodland that was once widespread in the Central Valley. Meet at 6:30 a.m. at the farm center gate. Other events planned most weekends. More details here.

Sunday, Oct. 19: Ranger-led Mormon Creek Paddle at New Melones Lake east of Stockton. Launch from Tuttletown at 10 a.m. and hug the shoreline past the campgrounds up the creek. Watch for river otters, bald eagles, osprey and other wildlife.  Bring your own boat. Call (209) 536-9094 ext. 236 to reserve a spot.

Thursday, Oct. 23: Presentation, “Almost Somewhere: Twenty-eight Days on the John Muir Trail.” 7 p.m., Stockton REI. Author Suzanne Roberts will talk about her experience hiking the Muir trail from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, encountering bears, snowy passes, strange men, injuries, broken equipment and each other. More details here.

Saturday, Oct. 25: Sandhill cranes tour, 3:30 p.m., Cosumnes River Preserve.  Hear a brief presentation about crane behavior, biology and status, then walk the boardwalk in the Lost Slough Wetlands, enjoying views of cranes and other wintering waterfowl. More details here.

Saturday, Oct. 25: Hike, “Creepy Crawlies of Natural Bridges.” 10 a.m., New Melones Lake Natural Bridges Trailhead.  Find our about the importance of some of the “scary” critters at New Melones. 10 a.m. at trailhead off Parrotts Ferry Road. No dogs.

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.

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.

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Another story behind the skull

Turns out last weekend’s discovery of a fake skull along the River of Skulls wasn’t such a surprise.

Calaveras River advocate Jim Marsh tells me he first discovered the skull last June beneath the Pacific Avenue bridge.

Marsh named the skull “Cal.”

“When I first stumbled across it I was a wee bit fearful thinking it might be for real until I dug it out of the muck it was partially concealed in,” Marsh wrote in an email.

“When it turned out to be somebody’s discarded Halloween decoration I placed it in the grass near an often-walked area and waited to see how long it would be before it disappeared again.”

Knowing Coastal Cleanup Day was coming soon, Marsh suspected Cal would be “discovered.”

“Little did I think he’d make the front page,” Marsh wrote.

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The ‘first flush’ is on

Photo by Craig Sanders

At the risk of becoming one of Spiro Agnew’s nattering nabobs of negativism, I wonder what impact runoff from this morning’s rain will have on our creeks and streams, and the living things therein.

I know. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

But check out the oil pouring down the drain in Craig’s photo. Stockton often suffers a fish kill or two when the first rains of the season wash a summer’s worth of gunk and ooze into the storm drains, and from there, into the Delta.

The last time we had significant rain here was April 25.

It seems plausible that,  because of the drought, the stormwater that is splashing into our rivers as we speak might be more toxic than usual.

Keep an eye out for fish going belly-up. And if you see any, please take a picture and send it my way.

But hey, it was lovely waking up to the sound of rain on the roof this morning. We need a lot more.

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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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