The Presidio Brat

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


If you've driven down Lincoln Blvd. toward Baker Beach in the past few weeks, you will have noticed the massive tree removal going on. I admit that I was disturbed to see the destruction -- it had a bit of the "Rip them all down!" feel to it. It's horrible to see trees being killed. It's almost as bad as putting your dog down. Only with trees, you get the horrible wood-chopping, grinding, crackling and crashing sounds. It's like they're screaming. The landscape afterwards feels bare naked.

What used to look like this

Now looks like this:

However, at a National Park Service open house in Pacifica this week, representatives talked excitedly about the changes. They explained that most of the trees - cypress and pine - were diseased, and that the NPS has decided to restore this cliffside landscape, known as "serpentine bluffs", by removing the big trees that were choking out hundreds of other species that naturally grow there. So no, this is not Isengard's wheels of industry taking down the habitat, this is an attempt to restore a habitat.

Wait a minute, THIS sparse, rocky, coastal landscape has HUNDREDS of species? Why yes. The Council of Elrond was a little surprised to find a few native plants still growing there - albeit stunted. They will be planting native trees in some places, and in others, they're just going to let the seed beds do their natural thing. Kind of like a secret Santa. With elves.

When I asked the NPS folks if they had taken down the trees to create a better view for their new Coastal Trail, they said no. Tree removal was merely part of the Vegetation Management Plan to remove invasive species and restore the natives in certain areas. I can't help feeling, though, that it is mightily convenient that their new overlook trail will now actually have a stunning view that was previously blocked by trees.

My friend Carol used to call this stretch of road Hitchcock Alley. Its winding, cliff-hanging turns were scary with the trees, but now that they're gone, it's vertiginous. (What's funny is that we actually found a Hitchcock Street at the top of the hill there. Some old army planner had a sense of humor?)

If you're interested in volunteering to help restore this area, click here. It's a pretty challenging place to work. (In fact, one NPS rep called it "Getting Buff at the Bluffs".)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Reminder: AIFI is back with more!

If you're into Indie films, then don't miss the American Indian Film Institute's annual film festival , which is starting this week. They've got a fantastic line-up, and if last year is anything to go by, this year's films will be just as diverse and informative and plain old entertaining. They have a whole week of movies, and some of them look especially interesting:

Yellow Rock, a gritty Western set in 1880s California about a group of six cowboys who struggle with the elements, their greed and the curse of the "Black Paw Territory."

Yellow Rock Trailer from Nick Vallelonga on Vimeo.

On the Ice, which featured at Sundance and won awards in Berlin. After a terrible accident, two boys struggle to keep a dark secret that tests the limits of their friendship in this suspenseful thriller.

Holy Man: the USA vs. Douglas White. This 88-year-old Sioux medicine man spent 17 years in prison for a crime some say that he didn't commit. The documentary uncovers new evidence that brings the case back to Federal Court.

I love going to the shows because they often have multiple short films before a feature, and some of the shorter one are the real stars of the week. Shows are at the Landmark Embarcadero Center and the Palace of Fine Arts, and tickets are very reasonably priced. Hope to see some of you there!

Avatar, germs and 1491

My lover and I came down with a ridiculous bronchitis last month. It wiped us out for weeks. He stopped training for his triathalon and I took a leave of absence, which as a writer means telling everyone that you’re “thinking.” (All I can say is that if I were my boss, I’d fire me.) We were kind of puzzled. No one else got sick. It was much worse than the seasonal flu. My love is from Denmark, so we started to suspect that he’d brought something from the home country.

This week he went back to Denmark. He called me this morning to report that “half the population of Denmark” has this strange bronchitis, so now it seems probable that he brought it with him. There’s a certain satisfaction in figuring out where something comes from, even as it’s killing you. I can’t say I’ve ever blamed anyone for spreading germs when they have no idea that they’re doing it, but sheesh, man, why is it always Europeans wiping out the New World?

Which reminds me of the book. In an earlier post, which I now find embarrassing, and pure knee-jerk reactionism on my part, I reported that 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus looked like it was going to be more revisionist history in the SFUSD/politically-correct style, but it turns out I was totally wrong. The book is an incredibly thoughtful look at what the New World was like before Europeans arrived, and how a lot of our best and worst ideas about our own history are surprisingly wrong.

I don’t mean “all you self-righteous PC people are going to get screwed” or “all you bigots are going to get your come-uppance.” Mann doesn’t have a political agenda, which is part of what’s so refreshing about it.

Mann points out that today, we tend to think of Indians as having “inherent simplicity and innocence” and that we think this largely because of their supposed “lack of impact on the environment.” In other words, because they were nature-loving blue giants whose world was threatened by greedy corporate interests. But in fact, he shows how the Indians massively changed their environments all up and down the Americas. Their world was “a stunningly diverse place” filled with millions of people and thousands of different languages and cultures, plenty of whom were engaged in projects to engineer their environments on scales we don’t imagine today. Most of those civilizations vanished after Columbus. The European perception that the land was “empty of mankind and its works” was the largely the result of successive waves of disease wiping out whole communities -- as well as subjugation.

If Avatar were being historically accurate, then 90 percent of the Na’vi would die off within the first generation of RDA Corp’s arrival. They’d find massive cities on Pandora bigger than those on Earth. And Sully would contract a bad case of syphilis for sleeping with Neytiri.

Anyway, drawing on all kinds of new scholarship and science, 1491 gives a surprising look at the Western Hemisphere before Columbus arrived, which is pretty much “the biggest blank in history.” And Mann does this with such humor and intelligence and panache that it’s the least painful non-fiction I’ve ever read. I absolutely couldn’t put it down. I am now embarking on his next book, yes, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. And so far it’s EVEN BETTER. Wooooo!

Speaking of Avatar. Even though it’s a “retelling” of American history that seems to be criticizing the amorality of the white man’s behavior, there’s something sneakily superior in it. I mean, the blue giants are getting the shaft just like the Indians did. Even in the future. Even on another PLANET. Sorry, white people are just evil until the end of time, and yes, natives, you’re always going to be magical beings with a mysterious connection to the environment. Anyway, James Cameron, take a look at Charles Mann.

NB: Everyone knows that illness always comes from “somewhere else.” According to Breverton’s Nautical Curiosities, another fascinating book, small pox “was called the ‘French disease’ in England, and the ‘Italian disease’ in France. The Dutch called it the ‘Spanish disease’ and the Russians called it the ‘Polish disease.’ The Turks called it the ‘Christian disease’…. [this is] indicative of the fact that the disease was often spread by foreign sailors.” Or indicative of large-scale xenophobia...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Some random cowboys getting on their horses on Marina Blvd.

Friday, July 22, 2011

So is this where we go to get a car wash?

This morning, down by the Gulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary a whole team of workers was happily washing away at a government van. I didn't get a photo of the massive soap bath they were making because I left my phone in the car and, yes, I ran back for it, dork that I am. I just had to get a picture because we mere residents do not belong to the elite category of Those-Who-May-Wash-Their-Vehicles-on-the-Presidio. But apparently we are allowed to watch those who do.

If the National Marine Sanctuary (whose stated mission is to protect wildlife and habitats?) is allowed to soap their sidewalks, then I do think the whole "polluting the bay with your soapy cleanser" line that the residents get fed is pretty much bunkum.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Presidio: 1988

Look what I found:

That was taken circa 1988, when they were filming "The Presidio". That's a younger Sean Connery dressed up like an army general. Dapper! I think it was taken on Funston Ave. facing Mesa Street, but I'm not really sure. It's funny, there's an old car always parked in that same spot today.

Definitely a much NICER old car, but anyway....

I also found this. It's from the old Presidio Theater, circa 1988.

Haha! Bono, Bono, you were so earnest. But the army had its way with your art.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fog gets a bad rap

The word is used so negatively. But if you've got it in your backyard, it's totally romantic, especially when it's flowing over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Just thought I'd share some Eddie Izzard who speaks the truth about our crazy fog.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The "hotel"

Yes, fair reader, there has been hot debate about whether or not there should be a Presidio hotel.

The cons argue that building such a structure will ruin the historic integrity of the main post. Except that when I talk to the people who are planning the thing, they describe it as a barrack-like structure that will include a series of interconnected walkways - kind of like what's already there. I have the feeling that the cons envision this:

And I think *some* of the cons happen to own hotels in nearby neighborhoods.

But to be fair, here are some of the arguments against.

The pros have told me a few times that it's not a HOTEL but a LODGE, like the kind you find in every national park. But I can tell you what the word "lodge" does to me.

As long as there are no stuffed elk over the fireplace, we're good. But actually, I LOVE the idea of putting a hotel-lodge on the main post. If we're sticking to historical integrity, then there should be hundreds more people on the main post every day. The place should be teeming. When the army was here, it was dynamic and lively with battalions of soldiers, families, civilian workers, parades, trumpets and hell, even cannon fire, but since the army left, the main post has gone to sleep. And I think she needs some serious action.

I vote for the hotel!

Just chillin with my off-leash dog

the "Visitor Experience"

When I hear these words, I usually have some gnarly thoughts about tourists. Being kinder, I'm guessing that the visitor experience is usually pretty confused, traffic-wise. Walk anywhere on the Presidio for longer than 20 minutes, and someone will ask you for directions.

But the phrase is now floating about in a more interesting way. The Trust wants to improve the visitor experience - as well as the RESIDENT and WORKER experience. Hoo-ah! And the most exciting of their projects is the Visitor Center. There are a lot of great ideas on the table.

Imagine a big, warm room with a fireplace, some cozy chairs. A cafe. A bookstore. A mini-market where you can buy a gallon of milk or some picnic foods. A place you could hang out. Take a class, or a tour. Meet your neighbors. Learn more about the Presidio. I would probably go there every day. It could look something like this:

Just imagining.

So over the next few weeks they're taking suggestions and trying to get resident input about what this Center should be. They're having five more workshops so if you have something to say, carpe diem people!

I'm forever talking about how this place would benefit from more foot traffic, but that whole sentiment has a dark twin - the part of me that likes it that people get lost here, that the army constructed this place to confuse the uninitiated, that this isn't just checkerboard San Francisco but a fractal pattern of roads and forests and trails with history layered all over it. I love all the unexplained parts of this place as much as the sleek pathways and helpful signage. And I am sure that some of our visitors will like the mysterious parts of it, too.

Some Reminders

Feel like fingerprinting your kids? Park police will be at the Disney Museum on March 25th. No confirmation yet on whether they'll be doing mug shots.

Need to vent your spleen about the proposed off-leash dog laws? Comment period ends on May 30th. (Oh go on, do it again!)

Need to dump your old stash of cocaine? Just kidding. I know you only have Vicodin from that ooooooold surgery. The SFPD will be taking disposals of controlled substances (yeah, I'm sure they will!) on April 30th from 10-2. Any station.

Need to visit the second oldest golf course west of the Mississippi? Go on then!

Feel like partying or meeting your neighbors? Of course you do. Bring your Vicodin!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Spike, the Rabbits, the Yellow Chair

If you, like me, have been dimly conscious of the art exhibitions popping up all over the place, and wondering what that tall spike on Arguello is, if not the base of the Eye of Mordor, then wonder no more. The Presidio Trust is offering ongoing guided walks through the Presidio Habitats exhibits through May 15. More info here.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

And how could I forget

That other frequently-sighted species

The Banana Slug?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Whose Brilliant Idea?

Well, congratulations California on jumping the national laws a year early and outlawing incandescent bulbs. We have now officially become a state where you can drive a Hummer non-stop, and use a leaf blower every day year round, and yet you cannot enjoy a good lamp in your home. All that's going to be left to us by 2014 is this ugly, horrible thing called an energy-saver bulb, which ought to be called an I-hope-that-new-health-care-bill-covers-bifocals bulb.

It's like space shuttle food. It's foul, but everyone will tell you that "it's got everything you need" - and nothing you even remotely want. They keep saying CFLs (compact florescent lights) give off "the same amount of visible light" as a good old Thomas Edison bulb. If the manufacturers don't understand that light has different qualities, and CFLs radiate a different light spectrum, then they're idiots. Or not even that, because any idiot will tell you that florescent light is ugly and depressing.

Not to mention, if you drop one and it breaks, be prepared to evacuate.

No doubt about it, our city, state, and federal governments are in a phase of over-regulation. Yes, I am cutting my energy emissions. But I'm sorry -- you're not my nanny!

In San Francisco, it's pretty bad. A culture has developed where we - by ignorance and by failing to vote - wind up giving special attention to small interest groups. They're like lobbyists, except they're only lobbying for themselves and then trying to make it sound like it's a problem everyone should be worried about. For example, the merchants in the Haight just hated the aggressive panhandling on their sidewalks, and they managed to bring the Sit-Lie Ordinance to life, which bans anyone from sitting or lying down on a sidewalk in the entire city. The city then approved it by vote. Lazy voters!! The fact that it was on the ballot in the first place is completely wrong. Who's worse - the people who want to take away the whole city's basic human rights because of a problem in their own neighborhood, or the people from other neighborhoods who voted for it because they think that sitting on sidewalks is really a problem? And that this will be an acceptable solution to it?

I think it's just discrimination against the poor, and it comes from a culture of entitlement. Since when do a bunch of shop-owners in the Haight get to direct the way this city treats all of its citizens?

Too much? Well, just sit back and watch some Daily Show:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What is this environment anyway?

One of the main arguments against off-leash dogs in recreation areas is that they are a hazard to the environment. First, I'd like to refer you to this brilliant take-down of the "Hatch Report," which is the supposed "science" behind why dogs should be banned from the native habitat of the Western Snowy Plower. Yes, that cute bird ----->

I think it's possible that dogs are a danger to the plover, but again, this is not something that necessarily requires banning dogs. Education and training of dog owners would be more effective, especially considering that the plover is also threatened by kite flyers, cats, ravens, helicopters, bicycles, airplanes, and the federal decision to conduct sand excavation.

The more I think about it, the more the GGNRA's proposal to ban dogs sounds a little bit like this: My friends, there was a car crash. Some people are uncomfortable with cars so unfortunately, we're going to have to ban automobiles from all public roads until further notice.

And if that sounds unpalatable to the majority of voters, the bureaucrats can pull out their trump card: well, cars are bad for the environment, and we're just trying to be environmentally sensitive, you know...

This all comes down to one big question: what is this place? How is the Presidio a park? Should it be more of a wilderness area? Or a recreation area surrounded by one of the most densely populated cities in America? Is it a museum, where people get to look at nature from behind a rope railing? Or is it a natural habitat with which we, the people, should be allowed to interact? And the answer to that question is…..

One that should be decided by the people.

Has that ever been figured out? Has anyone actually asked the citizens of San Francisco how they feel about their natural spaces and how they envision those spaces being used? Do tell.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Who You Callin' Native?

Forgive me, my three readers, if you happen to be environmentalists and already think that I'm hopelessly backwards on this subject. Despite living in natural spaces for a long time, I'm new to this field philosophically, and I'm about to embark on some posts that show me climbing out of the chasm of my blindness - mostly by asking questions and thinking out loud.

I've noticed a lot of the work done around here focuses on restoring native species and habitats. What exactly is that? From what I read, it seems to be whatever existed before the Spaniards arrived with guns and started shooting everything in sight and tearing things down, etc. Does the definition of native species take into account the fact that this land was populated by Ohlone for about 4500 years before the Spaniards arrived, and that the Ohlone also altered the land? They didn't do it as dramatically as the Europeans, but I'm wondering: are we calling something "native" when we should be calling it Ohlone?

And why restore a native habitat anyway? The Presidio offers a weird example, because even though the army was here for 150 years, they planted a whole ton of trees and generally kept this land looking a lot more natural than, say, the Sunset district. We wouldn't have this space if it wasn't for the army. So why tear down, for example, the Monterey Pines near Battery Caulfield to "make way for six acres of native dune habitat"? (I love that you do a lot of reforestation, but that's different, I think.) Just playing devil's advocate here, but even if that's just linguistic silliness, and being "native" has nothing to do with it, is a sand dune somehow more beneficial to the environment than trees?

Also, just wondering if any Ohlone advise or get consulted on the environmental decisions here?

Back to School With Her Royal Bratness

At a recent event, Presidio Trust natural resources specialist Damien Raffa gave a great presentation in which he asked the audience to name some of the animals they'd seen over the past 24-48 hours. Of course my mind went blank, but over the next few days I kept thinking about all the animals I see on a regular basis, like the coyote dashing through my backyard in the yellow glow of the streetlamps, the cranes poised on Crissy Field, the hawks that dangle in the wind overlooking the ocean at sunset, the gophers my dog growls at on Crissy Beach, the hummingbirds that inspect my porch, and just today, this monarch butterfly in the bushes behind Senspa.

I also see many glorious, happy, friendly, adorable and ugly dogs all the time, but to my way of thinking, dogs kind of don't count. They seem to straddle the line between human and animal.

The other thing Damien did was show a photo of about 25 easily recognizable brand names - how many of these do we recognize? Most of them, of course. But nature? How many trees do we know? Plants? Flowers? Uh, I know what a eucalyptus tree looks like but mostly because I grew up here and they were always falling down and cutting off the phone lines, so we actually talked about them.

So I've decided to learn the names and attributes of the things in my natural environment. The Presidio has over 450 native plant and animal species that don't cut down phone lines, so if I do one a week, it will take me... eight and a half years. I think I'll start with this photo I took at North Fort Scott. This bird, King of the Street Sign, Master of His Metallic Domain, is a...hawk? The Presidio has over 200 species of bird, and it's a crappy photo, but I'll take any suggestions.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Is Banning Off-Leash Dogs the Answer?

The shit storm has erupted, put on your Wellies!! This week the Golden Gate National Recreation Area issued a proposal to ban dogs from Muir Beach, Ocean Beach, Fort Funston and parts of Crissy Field, and to force them onto leashes in other areas where they're currently running free. This is just the latest volley in the GGNRA's decades-long effort to eliminate dogs from all GGNRA land, including parts of the Presidio.

Backing up a little: Congress created the GGNRA specifically to preserve "the natural and cultural resources, and scenic and recreational values" of the parks in the Bay Area. Didn't think it would be so tricky, did ya?

In a GGNRA study (presented in a nice Power Point way) conducted in 2002, the organization came up with reasons they thought off-leash dogs were a problem: they harm wildlife, they have a negative environmental impact, they are dangerous, they make parks unsafe for visitors, and finally "dog owners are selfish." As you can see, there are two big arguments here: one is environmental, which I'll deal with later, and the second is that dogs and people don't always get along. In fact, GGNRA superintendent, Frank Dean, tried to justify this week's proposal by saying: "some people are just not comfortable with dogs."

Last I checked, "some" was not a majority.

This is quickly becoming a discussion of dog haters vs. dog lovers. Kinda dumb. But a valid point has been raised: there are people complaining that big dogs rush up to them when they’re trying to take a walk in the park, and it’s scary, and sometimes dangerous, and the dog owners act like it’s perfectly fine to have absolutely no voice control over their dogs. In fact, half the time the owners are not anywhere in sight. My dog was recently…well, raped at Crissy Field by a dog who apparently had no owner. The owner took ten minutes to notice what was going on, and when he finally came over – not running, mind you, but walking at a leisurely stroll – he actually laughed and said “hey, boy, good boy!” Meanwhile, I spent a desperate ten minutes trying to remove a fifty-pound boxer from my dog’s back, and the thing tore up the bottom of my pants so badly I had to get rid of them. When he wasn’t screwing my dog, he was chomping at my leg. I was terrified. The dog was in the throes of a violent natural impulse and his mouth could have fit around my head.

But that still does not make it right to ban off-leash dogs. It does make it right to punish individual, selfish people for their cluelessness. It would be great to see the NPS stepping in once in a while to issue a fine. However, I hate to see everyone suffer because of the idiocy of the few. And frankly, the areas where dogs are allowed is already less than 1 percent of the land that it's ridiculous to narrow it down even more just because a minority complains that they can't go to the beach because they don't like dogs. That would be the tyranny of the temper tantrum.

You know, GGNRA, there's an alternative to banning dogs, it's called education. My good friend Mike Wombacher is utterly tireless in his years-long work teaching owners to control their dogs. His site is Dog Gone Good and here's an excellent news clip of Mike doing what he does every day, dealing with this very issue:

Saturday, January 8, 2011


For years I suffered under the healthy delusion that no one would deliver take-out to the Presidio. Then a friend found this site, which immediately offered up 42 restaurants in the city that deliver to my very door (at North Fort Scott - arguably the most remote area for anyone coming from the city.)

I figure if anyone else out there is living in the dark ages like me, you'll appreciate the info. AND you can order online.

P.S. I don't mean remote in terms of traffic or distance, (there's always Doyle Drive), I mean in psychological terms. You have to cross the WHOLE Presidio to get here.