Wednesday, September 26, 2012

They're Baaaack! Mountain Bikes in the State Parks

Just why is it that State Parks is so hell-bent on opening up more and more trails to mountain bikers?  In this time of budget deficits and parks closing, lack of rangers and just plain old general maintenance, they want to give over a popular hiking trail, Bill's Trail, in Samuel P. Taylor Park, to the spandex crowd.

We have successfully forced environmental review, citizen oversight and other measures in protecting trails throughout the system, but they don't give up.  Doggedly determined, Parks officials keep pushing the bike agenda, now planning to search out $350,000 to "ready" the trail for the onslaught.  This in a time of budget deficits and lack funds for of regular maintenance and enforcement as it is.  It is unconscionable in this climate to seek funding for yet another mountain bike playland. Yes, mountain biking is a popular sport; so is off-roading and dune-buggying.  Snowmobiling. If popularity were the test, we'd have Xtreme bikathons every weekend all through our public parks and open spaces.

Other concerns should matter more. Erosion, habitat protection, waterway preservation. Peace and tranquility.  Get off your bike and take a hike.  If you want nature, ditch the spandex and machinery and walk.

If you want speed, take to the roads.   With a set of wheels all too often comes a sense of entitlement. "Share the road! share the trail!" is the rallying cry.  Yes, share the road, but why the trail, where one can have an all too rare chance to leave the hustle and bustle of urban life behind and enjoy nature, with its subtle rustlings tweetings and burblings?   

And there are plenty of existing existing fire roads, where well-behaved bikers have always been welcome.  But so many of today's "bikers behaving badly" have taken over the terrain, sharing is hardly an option anymore. Anyone who's been out walking lately in State, County or water district lands is all too familiar with loud voices, speeding bikes and rude riders.  Are they minority?  I don't think we can say that anymore.  It's time for a change.

Here's a small one we can easily implement - I've said it before and I'll keep saying it, we need to license bicycles like they used to do.  In fact, the California Vehicle Code provides for cities and Counties to do just that, which some, like Santa Cruz does.  Why not Marin?

Here is the Code section that permits this simple measure:
License Requirement. VC 39002

a) A city or county may adopt a bicycle licensing ordinance or resolution providing that no resident shall operate any bicycle on any street, road, highway, or other public property within the city of county, unless such bicycle is licensed in accordance with this division.

b) Any bicycle not licensed under this division may be additionally regulated or licensed pursuant to local ordinance or may be licensed upon request of the owner.

c) It is illegal for any person to to tamper with, destroy, mutilate or alter any license indicia (marking) or registration form or to remove, alter, or mutilate the serial number, or the identifying marks of a licensing agency's identifying symbol on any bicycle frame licensed under the provision of this division.

It's a small step toward enforcement of the few rules that aim to protect the landscape, but it could be a help in identifying scofflaws.  "Officer, I got his license number!" might slow down the worst offenders. Although probably not.
And no matter how many trails are groomed, signed and made available to them, there are always demands for more, and worse, continual stealth creation of new trails, through rougher terrain, further degrading the environment for the pleasure of the (mostly) testosterone driven over-acheivers, in search of the next high.
    Illegal trail on Mt. Tam created by mountain bikers.

It might be better for all concerned if they'd just take up smoking crack instead. 

Bring on the nasty comments.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Trees vs. views Twenty-Five Years later

Sometimes these things drag on and on and on.  Years. Decades. Past the time when the house is sold, the trees removed, the owners dead.  Read this article from the San Francisco Chronicle for how obsessive some people can be about their views, and others can be about their trees, or not their trees, for that matter.

Fight over Oakland trees, views not over

By the time Phyllis Bishop won the right to trim and clear her neighbors' trees and regain the panoramic bay view from her Oakland hills home, 25 years had passed, her husband Lloyd had died, and she was living in a retirement home.

Bishop, 95, sighed with relief at the victory of an epic legal and political battle with her neighbors that went all the way to the state Supreme Court. Yet, once the neighbors' trees were cleared this year, Bishop noticed that city trees blocked the view from her property, violating a city ordinance.

It didn't matter that she no longer lived in her home, which she is now renting. She began negotiating for the clearing of the city trees - the cost of which she would pay - out of a sense of justice and on grounds that it affects the property's value. The city agreed, but one set of neighbors objected.
"Guess who?" Bishop said.

That would be Okhoo and Ernest Hanes, the neighbors who lost their fight with her to keep their trees.

They - like Bishop - no longer live in their Oakland hills home but rent it out. They now live in Napa.
The Bishops and the Haneses once lived near each other in the hills, tied only by a property line until the decades-long feud intertwined them. Tuesday, they'll go before the City Council for what Bishop hopes will be the last fight. Okhoo Hanes is unsure the end of the battle is near, even though she and her husband, both 55, have lost more than $200,000 in legal fees and many trees they cherished.
Asked whether she would sue or take another tack if the city agrees to remove the trees, Okhoo Hanes said, "I don't know."

The trees in question are mostly acacias, though the city says Bishop should also be allowed to trim some branches from five large Monterey cypresses and Monterey pines.

A home with a view

Phyllis and Lloyd Bishop moved into their home in 1964. They could see Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and Treasure Island.

"To own a part of this beautiful part of the world was a privilege," said Phyllis, who was born in Oakland and who, like her husband, was an Oakland schoolteacher. "We'd traveled. We knew this was special."

Wary that developers would build up the property below them, she said they successfully sought an easement ensuring nothing would be built to block their view before they bought the house. But it only referred to buildings.

"It didn't refer to vegetation," she said ruefully. "We didn't anticipate that."

For 23 years, the Bishops asked their neighbors if they could pay for the tree trimming. The neighbors always said yes, said Phyllis.

Then, in 1984, the Haneses moved in. Three years later, the Bishops saw that it was time for a trimming. Six previous owners of the Hanes home had always agreed. The Haneses didn't.

"It had no effect on the people who owned the property, but it maintained the view," she said.
The Bishops say they tried to talk to the Haneses. They asked their city councilman to intervene. They suggested a mediator. They offered to buy land covered by the foliage.

"They wouldn't talk about it at all," Bishop said. "Finally, we sued them."

The Bishops used Oakland's View Ordinance as their justification. The ordinance allows property owners to restore "a reasonable amount of the view that they had when they purchased their property, whether the trees are growing on public or private property," according to a city report. Native trees and trees on park property are exempt.

After the city reworked its ordinance, the courts ultimately upheld the Bishops' contention that they had the right to trim the trees.

Councilwoman Libby Schaaf grew up within a mile of the disputed trees and now represents the area.
"It's one of the things that's amazing about Oakland: We have bay views while still living in the forest," she said. "But trees do grow taller. ... It's tragic that this neighborhood dispute has gone on so long and taken up public resources."

Seeking sanctuary

The Haneses, too, believe in the righteousness of their cause. Where the Bishops saw expansiveness in the treeless view, the Haneses found the sanctuary that comes with living among trees.
The trees "gave a sense of seclusion," said Okhoo Hanes. Despite the urban setting, she said the trees meant "we had a feeling of living in a hideaway."

After the state Supreme Court denied their appeal last October - two days after Lloyd Bishop died at age 89 - the Haneses were forced to clear their trees.

"After the tree removal, we lost a sense of enclosure," she said.

In the current appeal, the Haneses say that landslides are a risk. An engineer disagrees. In addition, city staffers note, the Fire Department had "excessive vegetation" in the area removed in 2009, and no landslides occurred.

Both sides see slights

Both sides have an accounting of slights. Phyllis Bishop remembers welcoming the Haneses to the neighborhood, she said, only to have Okhoo respond rudely. Okhoo Hanes said it still stings to think of how the Bishops, she says, said that land with just wild trees and shrubs had no value.

"That's an example of the attitude they showed toward us," Okhoo Hanes said. "They didn't value our ownership even though they were adamant in asserting their property rights."

Both families talk of the children raised in their homes. Bishop hopes that one of her two adult children will eventually live in the property.

"I've done about all I can do," Bishop said. "I'm going to try to outlive them. I don't know if I will or not. Would you care to place a bet?"

This article has been corrected since it appeared in print versions.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Salmon ruling curbs San Geronimo Valley development

Good News for Marin Fish and Streamside Environment

This just in from the Marin IJ.  Very good news. Good job on the part of SPAWN and friends.

Development restrictions were imposed on the San Geronimo Valley by a county judge who barred new building applications until Marin officials enact tougher rules to protect creekside salmon habitat.

The ruling does not affect existing building permits, including development of Spirit Rock, or ministerial "work that does not expand the existing building footprint," as well as replacement or repair work required by state or federal law or "a disaster or emergency as declared by the federal or state governments, or the county Board of Supervisors."

Marin Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee, making a final ruling this week in a lawsuit filed by the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network of Forest Knolls, rejected the fishery group's argument that the county violated environmental law, but said officials must deliver an improved "streamside conservation area" program aimed at limiting activity detrimental to fish.

Because county policy promises adoption of rules tightening creekside protection, the county is "enjoined from approving and shall not approve any application for development within the stream conservation area, as defined by the 2007 countywide plan update, in the San Geronimo Valley watershed ... until such time as the streamside conservation area ordinance required by the 2007 countywide plan update is adopted by the Marin County Board of Supervisors," Judge Duryee ruled.
The action includes exceptions carved out during protracted negotiations after a tentative decision issued four months ago.

A key exception allows work that does not expand the building footprint "within the stream conservation area, and is subject to ministerial approval by the county," a provision enabling some to proceed with remodeling projects, perhaps including second-story improvements. Another allows supervisors to declare an "emergency" to allow repairs to proceed, but offers no definition of such a situation.

SPAWN's lawyer, Michael Graf of El Cerrito, was not immediately available for comment, and Todd Steiner, the group's executive director, said he wanted to read the judge's ruling before commenting. SPAWN later issued a statement in which Steiner said it was "unfortunate the county's failure to do proper environmental review and get common-sense rules in place has resulted in a court-ordered de facto building moratorium."

Steiner added: "Supervisor (Steve) Kinsey decided to roll the dice in court, and the people of the San Geronimo Valley are the current losers. ... We hope common sense rules will now be adopted quickly."

In an interview, Steiner said Judge Duryee essentially "split the baby," giving both sides in the litigation a wink. He added he has no problem with the exemptions allowed by the judge.
Kinsey said that while "the court supported the county's extensive environmental review," restrictions sought by SPAWN present a difficult hurdle. "I find SPAWN's continuing effort to stop future development on legal lots in established neighborhoods to be divisive, dismissive of both county and property owner efforts, and costly to defend at taxpayers' expense," Kinsey asserted. "There is a better way, as reflected in our voluntary landowner assistance programs, protective conditions incorporated into building permits and substantial (fish) barrier removal projects where streets cross creeks."

Niz Brown, treasurer of the San Geronimo Valley Stewards, a property owners' group that she said backs "reasonable" efforts to help salmon, expressed dismay at the turn of events, saying the notion that building near streams "has caused the demise of salmon is absurd," and not based on scientific evidence.

"Why is it that this little valley gets thrown under the bus?" she asked. "It's absolutely appalling. ... Why doesn't this affect all streams in Marin County?"

The county issued a press release indicating that while area Supervisor Kinsey "believes the injunction will cause significant hardship for residents," only five building permits were issued this year involving expansion of a building within the conservation area. The statement trumpeted county efforts to protect endangered coho salmon, noting it and other public agencies have spent more than $17 million improving the valley watershed, home of one of the most important coho fisheries in the state.

Tom Lai, assistant community development agency director, said he expects the judge's ruling will mean relatively little change for valley homeowners who already face a web of building regulations. He added county planners will produce an expanded streamside conservation program by next year for adoption by the county board, a move that will eliminate the court's red tape.

In its suit, SPAWN argued that the 2007 countywide plan update failed to protect
salmon habitat in the San Geronimo Valley, violating the California Environmental Quality Act. The county already restricts building within 100 feet of creek banks, but SPAWN wants tougher rules to protect fish.

In an abrupt, closed-door deal with Steiner aimed at staving off legal action, county supervisors in 2008 banned creekside construction in the San Geronimo Valley for two years to review regulations and assess salmon protections. Supervisors approved voluntary measures to protect salmon, but rejected tough new streamside tree cutting and related habitat rules urged by county planners.
Steiner sued, leading to this week's ruling.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cell phone spectre in Fairfax

Yes, it's happening in sleepy little Fairfax, California, a Cell phone tower proposal that has passed the Marin County Planning Commission and is being appealed to the Board of Supervisors.  This one is supposed to be disguised as a tree.  

Telecommunications law makes it hard to beat these Cell phone installations, at least on health or safety grounds, but we at Green Legal Solutions have delayed them for thorough environmental review under CEQA (aesthetics and similar issues are grounds for appeal). 

In Lake County, we stopped a ridgeline Cell phone tower at the Supervisors level, because a full review of a planned series of repeater stations was needed.  Verizon has big bucks for lawyers, but people power and public interest law can go a long way.  And AT&T is coming soon to a tree near you.

Here's the article from this morning's Marin IJ for all interested in the process:

County commission OKs Fairfax cell tower plan despite neighborhood protests

A hotly-contested plan by a telecommunications giant to erect a 50-foot cellphone tower disguised as a tree on a ridge near Boy Scout Camp Tamarancho above Fairfax was approved Monday by a county commission as neighbors vowed to bring their fight to the Board of Supervisors.
The county Planning Commission, saying Verizon Wireless made a compelling case for the tower in light of a coverage gap along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, unanimously approved the proposal despite protests from neighbors who live almost a half-mile away.
Mark Fiore of Bothin Road in Fairfax, a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, said neighbors will chip in the $770 needed to appeal the decision to county supervisors.
Commissioners agreed that after a five-year planning effort, Verizon had come up with an acceptable, largely unobtrusive plan that would improve cellphone coverage, speed emergency response time and boost public safety. Two commissioners relayed stories of
experiences with medical emergencies in which cellphone coverage was not readily available.
In any event, commissioners agreed with a Verizon lawyer who cautioned that federal
law limits the ability of local agencies to restrict such facilities.
"This cell tower is situated in such a way that will have virtually no impact," said Commissioner Katherine Crecilius.
"Generally I'm against putting structures on ridgelines, (but) this just becomes another odd tree," added
Commissioner Randy Greenberg, saying the project "in no way is a precedent for or enables other ridgeline applications.""In general, I think this is an appropriate location," said Commissioner Don Dickenson. "Our hands are tied" by federal regulations, noted Commissioner Wade Holland, adding Verizon "has jumped through the hoops" with a diligent planning effort.
Several speakers indicated support for the plan, including former Sausalito fire chief Steve Bogel, who lives on Manor Road in Fairfax. "I hope this system will improve our service for our convenience and for public safety," he said.
But a dozen area residents rose to oppose the tower, calling it a blight on the ridgeline, a radio wave health hazard, a "lightning rod" for fire danger in a "tinderbox" area buffeted by wind, and argued that alternative sites were not adequately reviewed.
Nancy Morita of Iron Springs Road called the tower plan an "oversized industrial pollutant" that would spew hazards around the clock to satiate the "greed of an outside corporation." Neighbor Rebekah Collins called the tower an "enormous liability" that would attract lightning strikes and trigger wildfires that would sweep down the canyon. "Why is it that we have to sacrifice our peace of mind and our quality of life for this project?" she asked.
Others asserted Verizon had not studied other sites in enough detail — or even shown that enough of a "coverage gap" existed to merit the tower.
The commission disagreed with just about every neighborhood argument, noting that the plan called for a tower 70 feet below a site turned down by a county zoning official last year, and said the latest plan was far superior.
After years of effort in which Verizon said it reviewed 24 alternative sites, including three at Tamarancho, lawyers for Verizon called the new plan "the least intrusive means of addressing this significant coverage gap." Boy Scouts officials agreed.
The latest plan moves the "stealth" tree tower site at 1000 Iron Springs Road nearer a cluster of trees, and "will have little if any visual impact," according to Verizon attorney Paul B. Albritton. "This vital infrastructure fully complies with the Marin County Development Code, the Marin County Telecommunications Plan, the Marin Countywide Plan and the California Environmental Quality Act, and the denial of the application would violate the Telecommunications Act of 1996," Albritton advised.
The 50-foot-tall "monopine" tree would have 12 panels of antennae disguised as branches. A 1,216-square-foot area would be enclosed by a 6-foot-tall chain-link fence and include a 184-square-foot equipment shelter, a standby generator and a 210-gallon fuel tank.
Officials noted that AT&T is interested in using the tree antenna, a move that would require a design review permit application.