Dear Jane and Other Lovers of Birds and Wildlife,
I was very pleased with this lucky image of a MALLARD couple that I took behind the Tannery. Don’t you all agree that this newly formed pair seems likely to enjoy a harmonious future together, engaged as they are in a moment of perfectly synchronized head scratching! I love this time of year when these common but beautiful waterfowl are in full breeding plumage, pairing up all along the river as they begin to claim their separate nesting territories.
As I walked upstream towards the Tannery, passing underneath the Highway One Bridge, I was impressed once again at how much the wildlife scene changes once you cross that boundary. Suddenly, dramatically, you find yourself in a much more natural area –– without a levee; with large stands of native trees (redwoods, sycamores, alders, willows); with fallen logs; with native shrubs and with far more birds!
Almost immediately I saw a lot of movement in the canopy of a huge Arroyo Willow just a stone’s throw from the noisy highway. These trees can grow up
to 35 feet in moist and rich riverside soil and I think this willow was at least that high. As I stood there craning my head upward, I saw seven bird species busily harvesting a buggy lunch from that one tree. RUBY CROWNED KINGLETS flitted from branch to branch in their usual frenzied way. Two gorgeous TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS took a slightly more leisurely approach to their insect search, allowing me a moment to take a photo. Several CHICKADEES bustled from branch to branch, perhaps signaling to each other their raspy contentment at a juicy bug. ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS flashed their metallic green colors as they also feasted on the protein-rich insects that they need in addition to nectar. A lone SONG SPARROW bared its crisply brown-striped white breast as it indulged in the insects that it also needs in addition to its more regular diet of seeds. A YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER made a brief appearance, gleaning a few bites before she pushed on. Later the same tree was filled with BUSHTITS, hanging upside down to reach their small protein bars..
What a rich source of food and cover this one willow provided to a diversity of species. What a pity to think that most of its siblings just a few blocks downstream are hacked to the ground each year during the annual flood control work. These poor saplings never get the chance to welcome all the insects that attract all the birds and butterflies and bees to this ecologically important native tree. This is why I strongly support the restoration of the Benchlands to its natural riparian woodland state, increasing rather than decreasing the amount of green space and habitat in our urban landscape.. I would love for the city to develop policies for the protection and enhancement of our natural resources rather than policies that potentially threaten these resources?
I bring this up because of the possibility of the City’s receiving an $8.5 million state grant to improve the Riverwalk. This dramatic case in point, featured in the December 25th issue of the Good Times, was enthusiastically hailed by the newspaper as an exciting vision for the future of the river. The application submitted by the City proposes to transform the current Riverwalk into a safer, more beautiful, and more functional river parkway with an emphasis on serving low income communities with less access to parks. That formulation complies on the surface with the stated purpose of the grant which is funded through Proposition 68, a $4 billion state initiative, approved by voters in 2018, aimed largely at supporting equitable access to parks throughout the state. But is our City’s application for these funds seriously focused on providing equity? And will it promote more green space in the City? The main focus of the grant seems to be on improved bikeways ( more asphalt), more lights for people (counter-indicated for birds and other wildlife), lots of ceramic art that celebrates nature (why not encourage the community to look at the real wildlife before them) and river-facing restaurants and coffee houses whose customers can enjoy the river as a scenic backdrop (but probably not a wildlife habitat). Will the low-income communities be able to afford these river-facing eating establishments?
Judging from some of the people pushing this vision, namely Greg Pepping, chair of the Planning Commission and Claire Galloglly, Transportation Planner for the City, I can’t help but wonder if downtown economic development isn’t the silent driver behind this plan “for the poor”. Greg Pepping, who is widely quoted in the Good Times article, is also executive director of the Coastal Watershed Council, an agency whose goals and values often seem more aligned with Chamber of Commerce goals than with environmental goals..
The application for the river parkway was submitted jointly by the Economic Development Department, the Public Works Department and the Parks and Recreation Department, listed in that order. The leading environmental groups in our community, the Sierra Club and the California Native Plant Society, have not yet, as far as I know, been consulted in planning for the transformation of this major wildlife habitat within our City’s boundaries. According to a conversation I had with Noah Downing of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, grant writers have already met with representatives, including children, of the Beach Flats area. According to Downing, more conversations with low-income communities and with environmental groups will happen if the grant is received.
Still, I worry that all this money might end up serving the residents of future luxury apartments as well as the many spandex-suited bicyclists who I suspect do not live on the river but currently dominate the pathway. If the pathway is improved, will it not attract even more speeding bicyclists? Apparently if the proposed Park “touches” a low-income area, it qualifies for the grant. Will the residents of the low-income neighborhoods that do exist along the Riverwalk really use the area as a park area? How does the City plan to attract this population? Right now its kind of scary out there for pedestrians like me, not because of the homeless but because of speeding bicyclists. Will low-income neighborhoods along the river even survive as the City gentrifies?
I’d like to thank Council member Drew Glover who, when this matter first came before the City Council last summer, asked the City staff some of these same searching questions regarding equity and protection of wildlife habitat. I am so distressed that there is an attempt to recall this passionate, intelligent and articulate advocate for the poor and for the environment. I hope Santa Cruz voters will not be misled by developers and real estate interests who are pouring lots of money into removing the important voices of Drew and Chris Krohn from our Council. I hope all our readers will vote No on the Recall, and at the same time cast a “Just in case” vote for Katherine Beiers and Tim Fitzmaurice. Both of these former mayors are strongly opposed to the recall but have nobly stepped out of retirement to protect the progressive majority on the Council – just in case the recall of either Glover or Krohn succeeds. For the sake of the environment, and for the sake of low-income members of our community, let’s make sure the recall of two staunch environmentalists, and advocates for the poor, fails.
I will probably be writing more about this in the future if the Department of Economic Development et al receive the grant money.
Click here to see my eBird list for my short visit to the Tannery this week.
Did anyone get a chance to read John Muir’s essay on the AMERICAN DIPPER? I hear that one was spotted in Santa Cruz County for the first time in several years – somewhere in Mt. Herman. I’m very motivated to go in search of it.
More and more tents are going up along the river and on the bridges. It is comforting to me to see that at least the homeless will have reclaimed a small measure of safety, dignity and warmth after being summarily booted from the Ross and Phoenix camps. I am very grateful for the recent decision of the Supreme Court to let the ruling of the lower court stand, the ruling that requires that outside sleepers not be legally cited if other shelter is not available. This last Sunday I saw one man raking his “front lawn”, a serious effort to keep the place tidy. I hope portapotties will soon be provided, for the sake of both the people and the river. Until our society is ready to provide better alternatives, I hope the City can work with the homeless to find humane and environmentally responsible solutions that meet everyone’s needs.
May the inequity between the rich and the poor, and between human and non-human species, be gradually remedied. That is my ardent wish for the day!
Good birding to all.