The Presidio Brat

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.