Year of Fire

July 31, 2018

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Smokey Sunrise near Redding California

Only nine months ago, winds gusting to 60mph blew the Tubbs Fire across miles of Napa, Lake and Sonoma Counties. The fire effortlessly crossed a well-maintained 100-foot wide firebreak to enter and decimate the upscale Fountaingrove neighborhood, then drove deep into the City of Santa Rosa – eventually destroying about 5% of the housing stock in a city with a population of over 175,000. 22 people were killed and nearly 6,000 structures were destroyed. Santa Rosa alone suffered more than a billion dollars in damage. It was the most destructive, and third deadliest, fire in California history.

At the same time, the nearby Nuns, Atlas, and Redwood Valley fires each ranked, on their own, among the top-twenty most destructive fires in state history. Collectively, these four fires burned over 8,000 structures and killed 40 people.

Just two months later, strong winds blew the Thomas Fire across portions of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties at a rate of advance that sometimes reached an acre per second. The 282,000 acres that eventually burned made it the largest fire in modern state history. Two people were killed and the 1,063 structures destroyed made it the 8thmost destructive fire in state history – the third fire to make the top ten list in a three month period. Damages amounted to more than 2 billion dollars.

This week, fires in Northern California have already burned close to 200,000 acres. The Carr Fire, without aid of significant wind, developed a rotating column that generated what amounted to a fire tornado in suburbs of the City of Redding – a terrifying sight that resulted in an astonishing level of destruction. So far, 1,236 structures, including nearly 900 homes have been confirmed destroyed and 6 bodies, including the bodies of two firefighters, have been recovered. Additional people remain missing. The Carr Fire will rank as at least the 7thmost destructive fire in California history – the 6thfire to rank in the top 20 in the past 10 months.

This is the price we are paying right now, today, for inaction on climate change. The bill will only grow steeper in the days, months and years ahead.

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With Restrooms Locked, Big Sur Roadsides Sink Deeper into Squalor

June 25, 2018

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Human waste next to locked restrooms at the Forest Service’s Willow Creek Picnic Area

When ya gotta go, ya gotta go and when ya gotta go in Big Sur, finding an appropriate spot can be difficult – especially when the public is locked out of the few facilities that do exist.

Word is that two or three restrooms on the South Coast, which means pretty much all the public restrooms on the South Coast, have been locked for several weeks now. We don’t know why, but this is the predictable result.

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Meanwhile, illegal campfires, like this one lit directly on top of dry grass, continue to threaten new conflagrations.

Welcome to summer…

(Photos by Branham Rendlen) 


FORA Develops Exciting New Plan to Perpetuate Itself

April 1, 2018

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Exploring the post-apocalyptic landscape of the former Ft. Ord

Ever since the Army closed Ft. Ord, in 1994, The Ft. Ord Reuse Authority, or FORA, has been working tirelessly to complete munitions clean-up, redevelop the blighted acres of abandoned barracks, and ensure that the former base meets its potential as an economic driver for the community. Yet, after nearly 25 years, the blight has largely grown worse, the clean-up hasn’t been completed, the agency burns through around 6 million of your tax dollars per year, and some suspect FORA boss, Michael Houlemard, is more interested in prolonging his well over $200,000 per year job than in completing FORA’s mission.

FORA was originally expected to finish its work by 2012. When that didn’t happen, the state legislature extended FORA’s mandate to 2020. By law, FORA must have a plan for transitioning themselves out of existence in place by the end of this year. Yet the thought of bringing such a wonderful agency to a close has proved so difficult to bear that all efforts to devise such a plan have only resulted in plans to ask for yet another extension.

But another task force of FORA insiders is now hard at work and our sources tell us their consultants have finally found a way to allow FORA’s Ft. Ord reuse responsibilities to sunset, while still preserving FORA as a bastion of opaque bureaucracy and inflated salaries. To do this, they have advised FORA to focus on its core competencies.

High-level visioning sessions have revealed that FORA’s greatest expertise is in lack of responsiveness to the public and dismissiveness toward public input, in using questionable unexploded ordnance concerns as an excuse to exclude the public from land slated for development, in threatening trail users with collective punishment, and in jaw-droppingly inappropriate and self-serving gestures – as when Houlemard charged the taxpayers for his ticket when he ran a stop sign.

On the basis of these findings, consultants have advised the task force that FORA should embrace its strengths. Specifically it should transition itself from the Ft. Ord Reuse Authority into the Farcically Officious Rebranding Authority. In this way, imposing ridiculous rules to punish political enemies, acting for personal gain, rather than in the public interest, and continually shifting the purpose of the agency to meet political expediency could itself become the agency’s mission.

A win-win for FORA and aficionados of ossified, self-perpetuating bureaucracy everywhere.


Oil vs. Wind: The Big Sur Coast and the Struggle for Energy Dominance

January 24, 2018

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South Coast views

On January 4, Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, announced plans to open essentially the entire US coast, specifically including Central California, to offshore oil and gas drilling. Zinke described his plan as “a new path for energy dominance in America.”
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Halloween Horror

October 31, 2017

Just in time for Halloween comes news that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 404.39 parts per million.

For those who think this is a normal variation, here’s a handy graphic covering the rise and fall of carbon dioxide concentrations over the past 800,000 years:

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(Image created by Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

As it is painfully obvious that those who run the planet have zero interest in reducing carbon emissions by anything like the amount, and at anything like the speed, necessary to avert disaster, that line will only continue to climb toward the stratosphere and the impacts of climate change will only worsen.

While no one knows just how bad things may get, it’s worth noting that the biggest mass extinction event in earth’s history, the Permian-Triassic Extinction, which wiped out as many as 96% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrates, is thought to have been driven by runaway global warming. In that case, increased ocean acidity, caused by higher carbon dioxide concentrations, and decreased ocean oxygen levels, caused by warming, turned the oceans into hypoxic cesspools inhabited by sulfurous bacteria whose noxious gasses left the atmosphere unbreathable. Following the P-T Extinction, it took life on earth as much as 30 million years to rebuild functioning ecosystems with the kind of biodiversity we enjoy today.

We may or may not wipe out most of earth’s species this time, but our carbon emissions have already increased the acidity of the ocean surface by a whopping 30% over the past 200 years and hypoxic “dead zones” are emerging and growing larger. There is little question we are facing, and utterly failing to seriously address, the most serious crisis in history.

That’s the real Halloween horror.

Meanwhile, the fires, floods, and crippling heat waves that global warming has already made more frequent, continue unabated.

This month’s Northern California fires, which burned over 8,000 structures and killed at least 43 people, are a good example of an event made more likely by climate change – and also an outstanding example of how people will focus on anything else.

Lazy reporters repeat tired bromides about fire suppression resulting in unnatural accumulations of fuel – regardless of how frequently the area in question has actually burned – while less sober online commentators take for granted that the fires were deliberate government actions designed to clear away existing housing stock so that new housing designed in compliance with UN Agenda 21 can be constructed.

The main point of disagreement among these commentators is whether the fires were caused by space-based lasers (known to insiders as Directed Energy Weapons) or by some kind of electromagnetic “weather weapon” (the same one used to create and steer this year’s hurricanes). Both agree that highly flammable nano aluminum particles, distributed by “chemtrails” (which are either causing or preventing global warming, depending on who you listen to) played an important role, because “everything on the ground” is now covered with them.

The weather weapon people are angry with the laser people for pushing a preposterous theory and the laser people feel the same way about the weather weapon people. Both accuse the other of harming the credibility of the movement to warn the masses of the UN’s nefarious activities.

And the planet continues to warm.

Happy Halloween!


New Seawater Intrusion Maps Confirm that Water Runs Downhill

July 31, 2017

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The Salinas Valley has a seawater intrusion problem for a very simple reason. Groundwater levels are lower than sea level. As long as this remains the case, it’s pretty obvious that seawater will not stop flowing downhill into the Salinas Valley aquifers. See this post, from 2015, if you’re interested in the details.
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Cal-Am Announces Coal-Based Water Source for Monterey Peninsula

April 1, 2017

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The Cemex site: Future location of a Coal-Fired water plant?

The Monterey Peninsula must act quickly to end its reliance on illegal water diversions from the Carmel River. Otherwise the State Water Resources Control Board, which has stood by doing nothing about the illegal diversions for more than 30 years, will likely issue a new set of empty threats and just might, eventually, order mandatory rationing – something we all know would destroy the local economy. After all, without plenty of water, how can our visitor-serving industries serve our visitors?

After more than a decade of planning, the desal plant the community had pinned its hopes on remains little more than an ever expanding library of expensive studies. Beset by problems with its unproven slant-well technology and a battle over water rights, it is unclear when, if ever, the plant might break ground, let alone produce water.

So it is welcome news that the creative minds at Cal-Am have identified yet another highly speculative, energy intensive, and ruinously expensive solution to the Peninsula’s water woes. The idea is to build a large coal gasification plant on the Cemex property north of Marina (alongside the proposed desal plant). Hydrogen produced by the gasification process would then be combined with oxygen and ignited in a combustion chamber to form water. Coal would be imported by rail from mines in the Midwest, helping to realize the President’s dream of putting coal miners back to work.

Cal-Am says they’re very excited about this new project and, given that they make their money through a guaranteed return on their investment in the water system, why wouldn’t they be? The more they spend, the more they earn. The fun only stops if the PUC decides the spending is no longer reasonable and necessary. And who knows what it would take to reach that theoretical limit?

After all, they’ve already found it reasonable and necessary to site the desal plant miles up the coast from where the water is needed, requiring millions in new infrastructure to transport the water back to the users. They’ve found it reasonable and necessary to place the wells where some of the water they’ll capture already belongs to the Salinas Valley, adding millions to the cost of running the plant (since it will have to desalinate far more water than Cal-Am’s ratepayers actually need). They’ve found projected costs that far exceed the costs of similar desal plants reasonable and necessary. They didn’t even have a problem with ceding their oversight responsibility to a water board elected by people entirely outside the Cal-Am service area – and with zero personal stake in keeping Cal-Am water rates under control.

And what’s the big deal about cost anyway? The rate structure carefully protects water hogs in the business community from the punitive rates applied to residential customers who stumble over the line into higher tiers.

The “conventional wisdom” may be that technical problems with producing sufficient water in this way are far too numerous to make it feasible. Naysayers may point to the massive air quality and global warming impacts. Bean counters may complain that the water would be more expensive drop for drop than HP Printer Ink. But you don’t know what you can accomplish until you try!

And even if Cal-Am never manages to solve every problem, as long as they spend plenty of the ratepayer’s money working on it, they’ll have done their job.

Cal-Am’s profits, let us never forget, are based on how much money they can get away with “investing” in the water system. The amount of water they actually produce and deliver is irrelevant.