Growing by the Bay

Month: November 2007

Friday Roundup

Notes from a week of travel in virtual NoCal.

Duly quoted:

  • Ray Ratto: Why doesn’t L.A. have a professional football team? Because then the Bay Area would want one too.

Historical map of San Francisco Creeks

This great map from the 1890s shows creeks in blue and marshes in green, with modern landfill in magenta. A larger version is at the Oakland Museum of California site.

historic water featuers of san francisco

Fall color

japanese maple

The San Francisco Bay Area doesn’t have such a bad climate for fall color. The image above is of a Japanese maple; below is a Fuyu persimmon (both from my lot). But what we have is one of the world’s best climates for broad-leaf evergreens (you can see a lemon tree behind the persimmon), and as a result we tend to get specimen trees but never masses of color like these (photos taken near Ithaca, New York).

I like the color, and once I finish getting my backyard pool taken out I might plant a few more deciduous hardwoods.

fuyu persimmon

An alternative to the Fisher Museum?

An alternative proposal to the Fisher Art Museum in the Presidio has been put forward by a group of historians and conservationists. The group supports a smaller museum devoted to the local history. Will the proposal get a fair hearing? Doubtful. The Chronicle reports:

Opponents of Fisher’s museum plan complain that the competition sounds more wide open than it is. The formal request for proposals, for example, says that any new building “should take advantage of roof levels for display of public art,” something that works a lot better for an art museum than a history center.

The trust’s plan “was specifically designed to accommodate the contemporary art museum,” said Whitney Hall, one-time commandant of the Presidio and now a director of the historical association.

Trust officials deny that the art museum is a done deal. The directors will listen to the competing proposals at a Dec. 3 meeting and then make a decision based on what’s best for the Presidio, said Dana Polk, a spokeswoman for the Presidio Trust.

Great Blue Heron at Lafayette Reservoir

The Lafayette Reservoir is a pretty little lake of 115 acres. It’s a tame spot, much used by joggers, families, and dog walkers. An easy 4.7-mile trail loops around the lake from the parking area. The reservoir itself is not drained seasonally as many are, so it retains a natural-looking, reedy shoreline.

There is a book launch on the lake, but it’s restricted to boats that can be hand launched, and gas motors aren’t allowed. All-day parking is $6 and there is a $4 boat use fee. There are many picnic tables — 135, according to park literature — some of which can be accessed by boat. Last Friday we canoed over to this float and had a little picnic. The float was also accessible by trail, but most of the joggers and dog walkers are so focused on their circuit of the lake they rarely come down to the water.

floating picnic area, lafayette reservoir

It’s quiet on the water, and by boat you have access to things the joggers don’t see, like the great blue heron in the upper right of this photo.

canoe and heron on lafayette reservoir

Because canoes are the most maneuverable and quietest of water craft, it is possible for canoeists to get very close to wildlife.

great blue heron at lafayette reservoir

Lafayette Reservoir at Bay Area Hiker

Laufer/KPFA recap

peter lauferSeveral days ago I posted some information about Peter Laufer’s dismissal as replacement host of Larry Bensky’s Sunday morning show on KPFA. The comments to that post reflect a range of views. Following are highlights; for the full comments, see the original post. (Disclosure: As editor-in-chief of Mercury House I published some books by Peter Laufer.)

  • Anthony Garrett: “No media professional should be treated the way KPFA’s Sasha Lilley treated Peter Laufer.”
  • Nancy: “Unwelcome news … it seemed to be in the KPFA tradition.
  • Mac: “Laufer’s attempts to downplay or counter the concerns, fears, anxieties, and anger that some of us have with his (to me, fascistically) chipper, feel-good drivel — the world is going to hell, but C’MON, wasn’t that sunrise this morning just gosh-darned lovely! — instead provoked me to flip the dial in disgust.”
  • Eden: “As a staff member of KPFA– though not involved with Peter’s dismissal– I thought I might be able to shed some light…. The resistance of the KPFA audience to Laufer was unanimous. Neither was he embraced by those who loved Larry, nor those who hated him.”
  • Margaret King: “I am very disappointed that KPFA apparently did not value his program as much as I did. I will be one of the many loyal listeners who switch to GREEN 960 on Sunday Morning.”
  • James loughborough: “I believe that encouraging listeners to feel empowered and hopeful and, rather than helpless and hopeless, is advantageous personally, politically and socially. I’ll be tuning in to Green 960. How can KPFA have screwed this up?”
  • Doug Maisel: “C’mon, Peter. This isn’t your first radio!… It was ever thus at KPFA.”
  • Kathryn Page: “This firing is in the new tradition of KPFA that causes me to cancel a 30-year subscription…. I too was a devoted fan of Larry’s and at the beginning of Peter’s time there I missed Larry’s curmudgeonly edge, but soon came to appreciate the power of Peter’s profound civility.”
  • Mac (2): “I found Laufer to be obnoxiously pushy and rude: interrupting guests and callers, talking over others, cutting off a caller who criticized him.”

Friday Roundup

Notes from a week of travel in virtual NoCal.

America’s most literate cities

Dr. John W. Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, is the author of a study that attempts to rank the nation’s most literate cities. According to the study, San Francisco ranks no. 9, between Denver and Portland.

You might ask how could a study could produce results indicating San Francisco is less literate than Denver. Tat’s a good question, since the study’s report of its methodology is a little murky. But it seems to have involved counting the following factors:

  • number of bookstores per 10,000 population (SF is 2nd)
  • the population’s education level (SF is not in the top ten)
  • internet factors including number of access points, number of book orders, amount of online newpaper reading, etc. (SF is 9th)
  • number of libraries (SF is not in the top ten)
  • newspaper circulation (SF is not in the top ten)
  • number of magazine and journal publishers (SF is 7th)

In sum, the city is fortunate to have a large number of bookstores and some journal publishers. On the other hand, we have a poor daily newspaper and a population that is divided between the very highly educated and the barely educated.

Isn’t this methodology questionable? If you have a lot of local bookstores mightn’t you be less likely to buy a large number of books on the internet than if you don’t? Are these factors really indicators of the degree to which a community is literate?

Warriors practice

The team looks loose for today’s game against the Knicks.

KPFA fires talk show host Peter Laufer

Frisco Vista received the following e-mail, reproduced here verbatim:


BACK STORY: Berkeley, California’s KPFA/Pacifica radio station, the only radio station in America to have 10,000 of its listeners demonstrate against it, finds itself in another controversy.

After receiving what its program director said were hundreds of complaints from a segment of its “progressive” audience, KPFA abruptly, capriciously, and with no warning fired award-winning author, journalist, and broadcaster Peter Laufer from his lively Sunday morning radio talk show.

Program Director Sasha Lilley cited “negative audience feedback” and said her reasons for canceling the popular show were “intangible” but that Laufer was “just not right for Sunday.” Lilley offered to tell the public that Laufer was leaving “to go on to bigger and better things.” Laufer insisted that she better tell the public that he was fired because that was what he was telling the public. Laufer believes, based on letters and email, along with op-eds in the “alternative press”, that a group of malcontent KPFA listener-activists orchestrated a smear campaign against him because he is, as these critics wrote, “not a person of color” and because his credentials (he’s won virtually every prestigious broadcast journalism award) are “too mainstream.”

“The KPFA bumper sticker says ‘Free Speech Radio’ but apparently mob rule is more accurate,” Laufer mused from his Sonoma County coast side home, enjoying his first Sunday morning off in the six months since he inaugurated the KPFA show. “Ever since my undergraduate days, Berkeley has symbolized diversity. But today’s incarnation of KPFA wants to march in a lockstep of so-called politically correct speech. I did the show as a labor of love — the salary about paid for my bridge tolls, gas, and a Sunday dinner out. I am profoundly disappointed and concerned to see that as commercial radio continues to homogenize, a longtime bastion of innovation in the non-commercial radio world reacts with predictable narrow mindedness. If you can’t count on KPFA for tolerance of a diversity of views, what can you count on? Of course I harbor no desire to return to their airwaves after being treated in such a shabby fashion.”

Peter Laufer is author of over a dozen well-received books of social and political criticism; his most recent works probe the lives of soldiers opposed to the Iraq War and promote open borders with Mexico. A former NBC news correspondent — where he produced and anchored the first nationwide radio show on the HIV/AIDS crisis — Laufer has reported the news worldwide, and he won a Polk award for his documentary on Americans in prison overseas. In his own backyard heshared a Peabody award as a member of the KCBS news department when he co-anchored the station’s coverage of the 1989 earthquake that devastated the Bay Area. He created the “National Geographic World Talk” radio show, and is co-anchor with publisher Markos Kounalakis of the radio program “Washington Monthly on the Radio.” He guest lectures at universities worldwide on media issues and his print journalism is seen in a diverse array of publications from Penthouse to the London Sunday Times magazine. Details of his work can be seen at

Laufer sent the following open letter of protest to Nicole Sawaya, newly installed as the Pacifica Foundation Executive Director, the network of progressive radio stations that owns KPFA, and Dave Adelson, the Pacifica National Board Chair.

Dear Nicole Sawaya and Dave Adelson:

I am profoundly disappointed that your Berkeley station KPFA has given in to an orchestrated and hysterical campaign to remove me from my Sunday morning talk show. Of course I was not doing the job for the meager amount of money I received. I mistakenly believed that KPFA had a commitment to a lively and diverse approach to free expression performed in the context of creative and professionally produced radio theater. I took on the show when it was offered to me for the opportunity to practice live radio art, theater and journalism for my hometown audience.

My surprise firing was a tacky act and unworthy of the distinguished role Pacifica has played in American media. Sasha Lilley, the KPFA program director, reached me via telephone on my vacation in New York to inform me that my role was terminated.

Lilley said, and I quote from notes I took during the phone call and from a follow-up email I received from her, “I really like what you do on the air. You are certainly a team player and I have really admired what you have brought to the airwaves.” Nonetheless, with no warning, I was given my verbal pink slip. During the brief phone call, Lilley cited correspondence she had received from listeners who, she said, did not like my act. When I asked her why these letters were not brought to my attention prior to this termination call, she hemmed and hawed an apology and allowed as how that was probably a management mistake. In a subsequent call I pointed out to her what any longtime radio professional knows: were I to have known a cadre of listeners was organizing an attack on my tenure, I could easily have mustered an equal or greater response from my proactive audience of loyal Sunday morning listeners. Instead, I serenely was cranking out excellent programming, left unaware by Lilley and the rest of the KPFA management of my vulnerability.

Radio aficionados may be amused to know that only once did Sasha Lilley specifically chastise me for my performance. It came after I found an old Viewmaster abandoned in the studio just before air time one day. I clicked its shutter and was mesmerized by the familiar “ca-chunk” sound of my youth. When the show started I offered the first person to identify “the mystery sound” a prize: the book written by my first guest that day, autographed by the author. “I hate the mystery sound,” Lilley told me later, and I cancelled plans for it to be a running moment of frivolity on my otherwise serious show.

My firing came two days after I moderated a benefit for KPFA in Berkeley featuring Naomi Wolf and Daniel Ellsberg — an event that raised thousands of dollars, and where the hundreds in the audience broke into hoots and hollers of applause when I introduced myself from the stage as the anchor of the KPFA Sunday show.

As an added bizarre twist, the firing came on the eve of a feature article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Ben Fong-Torres about me and my talk radio career. In it Fong-Torres cites my seminal book “Inside Talk Radio: America’s Voice or Just Hot Air?” and reports “Laufer knows his stuff. He’s qualified to offer an update on the state of talk radio — albeit from a decidedly left-of-center viewpoint.” He notes I founded talk stations in Berlin and Amsterdam, and that my talk radio career dates back to the first-ever talk station. “Today,” he writes, “he hosts ‘Sunday’ a live program on KPFA.” But Chronicle readers who tuned in after reading the paean to my talk radio expertise heard instead Sasha Lilley herself on the air, hosting my program, with the halting explanation, “We’ve parted ways with Peter Laufer.” Firing is in her management toolbox, but apparently missing from her lexicon.

What gives in Berkeley? Is this the KPFA that I have known and loved? This bodes sour for the future of radio in America. If you can’t trust Pacifica to protect avant-garde yet highly professional radio, what can you believe in? Has the spirit of George Bush’s intolerant regime reached the trenches of Berkeley?

Sincerely and with regrets to report this news to you,

Peter Laufer

Friday Roundup

Notes from a week of travel in virtual NoCal.

Bay Area Hiker

I’ve been reading Bay Area Hiker’s reports for a long time. They’re detailed without going overboard, and they give a really good sense of what to expect from a particular hike. But I had always ended up on their pages when I was searching for information on a certain destination rather than going through their main page. It turns out, however, that entering through the front door has its advantages. There’s a lot of useful information on this site. Click the screen shot to sample it.

bay area hiker screenshot

Send in the tugs!

How can we prevent another catastrophic spill in the San Francisco Bay? Oil is bad enough but there are also vessels carrying chemical cargo that could potentially require the evacuation of most of the Bay Area if released in a spill.

One suggestion has been to require double hulls on cargo ships. This is a fine idea, but I don’t know if the Bay Area has the clout to bring about the retooling of the entire worldwide fleet of vessels.

Rep. George Miller (a rather sensible fellow for a politician) has said that requiring cargo ships to have escort boats, stockpiling cleanup equipment more broadly across the Bay Area or spending hundreds of millions of dollars to remove hazardous underwater rocks should also be considered.

Put me down at least in favor of the escort boat proposal. This is a really good idea, which would go far to eliminate the danger of spills in the bay. Now, I heard a representative of the shipping industry complain that this would be prohibitively expensive. Right, and the auto industry said we could never afford seat belts or shatterproof windshields either.

Think about it. These enormous vessels are carrying cargo like, for example, huge fleets of Priuses destined for dealerships all around the bay. You think there’s any money in that? They can afford a tug to guide them through the bay, for goodness sake. And this would help to provide employment for our local watermen.

The tug escort plan is one that really must be enacted. Right now. I only hope the lobbyists don’t get to Arnold before it can get done.

Dim Sum

Gridskipper recommends the following Dim Sum restaurants in the city. What are they forgetting? Maybe as time goes by it will be possible to add to this list.

NOAA coast survey maps

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a series of excellent bay maps on the web. Although the NOAA cautions that the maps are not to be used for nautical navigation, they do show depth contours in considerable detail. This section shows the Bay Bridge where a South Korean vessel collided with the bridge, releasing an oil spill whose effects will likely be suffered for years.

noaa map of san francisco bay

The maps can be zoomed and dragged. In the following view I’ve zoomed in a little (but not nearly all the way) to show some of the detail that the maps contain.

noaa map of san francisco bay

As far as I can tell, the site does not as yet have a user-friendly overview page. You kind of have to go to a page — like this one for chart 18650 — and then back up a directory and hunt around — or you could just try entering contiguous numbers in the url. It’s worth the effort if you are planning on being out on the bay or if you have an interest in its shorelines.

Friday Roundup

Notes from a week of travel in virtual NoCal.

Oil spills, volunteers, and the San Francisco Bay Area

volunteer canyon, marin county

Today beaches near the Golden Gate are closed as a noxious oil spill is washing up against the shore. A large South Korean-based Hanjin container ship struck one of the supports of the Bay Bridge and released oil into the bay from a damaged tank. According to Caltrans engineers the bridge got the better of the collision and suffered no significant damage. The cause of the crash is a mystery, since the bridge is pretty easy to spot by eye or radar, even in heavy fog. The ship even had a local pilot aboard. We are still waiting to learn the extent of the environmental damage.

The most famous oil spill on the bay occurred on January 19, 197. On that date, two oil tankers, the Arizona Standard and a sister ship, the Oregon Standard, collided in the bay. Winds and currents drove the resulting spill north toward Bolinas Lagoon in Marin County. As the Point Reyes Light recalls, “The collision ripped open six of the Oregon’s 26 fuel oil compartments, dumping 840,000 gallons of oil into the bay — more than half of which ended up on beaches around the Bay Area. The spill killed roughly 20,000 birds and some seven million marine organisms, according to Bay Area researchers.”

What was most remarkable about the event was the rallying of community support for the embattled beaches. The community of Bolinas quickly rallied. Sculptor Tom D’Onofrio shared his recollections with the Light:

Drawing on his days at a logging camp in the Adirondacks, D’Onofrio felt that stringing a boom — a row of logs — across the lagoon’s narrow mouth might provide a decent barrier, and that hay could be used to soak up oil.

“It was a crude plan, but this was instantaneous thinking,” the sculptor said.

He approached neighbor John Armstrong, a boatbuilder with many logs on his property, and persuaded him to help with the boom’s construction.

D’Onofrio then drove down to Scowley’s, the local cafe and hangout (now site of the Kaleidoscope women’s craft collective) to enlist manpower.

“I went into Scowley’s and jumped on a counter and yelled, ‘This is what’s happened: there’s oil offshore and it’s coming this way,'” D’Onofrio recalled. “‘We need every able-bodied man, woman, and big child. Can we count on you?’ And everyone there yelled, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it!'” By the time the band of volunteers reached the beach, hundreds of residents had converged at the end of Wharf Road to help.

While many birds were lost a large number were also saved, and the actions of the volunteers were inspiring. A nearby canyon was renamed Volunteer Canyon in commemoration of their efforts. It is home now to an Audubon center, and is the nesting place for egrets and blue herons. The image shows a group of birders enjoying the canyon, whose preservation is due in part to the sense of community that resulted from the mobilization of the volunteers.

On their own: In Bolinas, residents struggle to keep fragile lagoon safe.
The residents were angry that such important work was left to amateurs while an international cleanup effort is under way only a few miles away.”

San Francisco Climate

The best summary seems to be via Golden Gate Weather Services.

san francisco rainfall by month

KPIX hires blogger

brittney gilbert, kpix bloggerKPIX, television Channel 5, has hired a full-time blogger named Brittney Gilbert. This is the first blogger hire by a local newsroom. Knowing how old-school journalism types think, I’m sure they see blogging as a way to reach a youth demographic and can’t imagine that older folks would read a blog. And sure enough, I see that Gilbert graduated from college in 2002.

Jim Parker, KPIX’s Director of Internet Operations, says, “Think of Brittney as the Web equivalent of a newspaper columnist, but with robust community involvement,” Parker says. “We also plan an automated blog aggregator and the opportunity for user comments, all to launch sometime after the first of the year.”

I wish her well, and I trust her KPIX blog site will not be as self-focused as her current blog is.

mostly via Susan Young

Martinez beavers under seige

The struggling town of Martinez at last has a bona fide tourist attraction — the delightful beavers who have built a dam downtown on the Alhambra Creek. Some of the videos featuring these YouTube stars can be seen above and below.

So, if you’re Martinez, how do you capitalize on this attraction? Do you go all out and set up elaborate viewing stations or do you play it low-key and let people wander around town until they find the beavers on the own. Already the beavers have been drawing crowds.

Well, again if you’re Martinez the answer is: neither of the above. Instead, city officials have called for the beavers to be killed — or, as they put it, “humanely depredated.” It seems the beaver dam could cause flooding. But in that case why kill the beavers instead of relocating them?

Martinez, by the way, in the home town of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club.

Friday Roundup

Notes from a week of travel in virtual NoCal

Mount Diablo tarantula

Each fall the tarantulas come out on Mount Diablo to mate. We saw a couple this year and read about a couple of cyclists — Mt. Diablo is popular with high-endurance mountain bikers — who got so distracted by a pair of mating tarantulas that they crashed into each other and had to be hospitalized.

It looks like this fellow might have been captured and taken home by someone. But what do you do with your tarantula after you get him home?

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