Actions matter

In this column, I frequently write about serious issues: ocean water bacteria levels, air pollution, habitat destruction, climate change and sea level rise. Just last month, I discussed sediment dumping on the beach at Ash Avenue. I describe public meetings of the City Council, the Planning Commission, and other less-than-scintillating ways to spend a few of your evening hours. In most cases, I urge you not only to notice these issues, but to care enough to take action.

But why? Why would you take the time to study technical planning documents, or to wait an hour for your turn to speak for three minutes to the City Council, or even to write a letter or an email expressing your opinion?

Why do I do it?

My first thought is there are real threats that need responses. Over the years, I have seen community leaders take an active role in tackling big issues, and I suppose some of their knowledge and insight may have rubbed off on me. I have seen that an individual can have a real impact on current issues.

But sometimes it can feel like whack-a-mole where in the middle of one issue, something new and even bigger pops its head up. The never-ending parade of problems and worries can wear you down. Why not just leave it for others to deal with?

One thing that motivates me is the vision “to preserve the essential character of our small beach town” that is central to the city of Carpinteria’s planning philosophy. I feel it is my responsibility as part of this community to do what I can to work toward that vision.

But, again… Why?

I keep asking myself this question (a bit like a three-year-old might), looking for the true underlying reason for me, or really anyone, to engage in community issues and remain engaged. Acting solely on fear of how bad things might get will drain you almost immediately, so that’s not the reason. And it’s not because it is our “responsibility,” since action based on obligation is usually, at best, half-hearted.

As I dig further and further, underneath all the apparent reasons and motivations is gratitude. The reason to fight bacterial levels in the ocean is not to avoid beach closures, but rather because of how wonderful it is to spend a day at the beach playing in waves of clean water.

Habitat destruction is troublesome, but the real motivation is having a high-functioning ecosystem that contributes to clean air, clean water and a healthy community. The decades-long effort for the Carpinteria Bluffs was not really about opposing each development proposal that came along, but rather about permanently protecting and preserving the Bluffs, even if at first it seemed impossible!

I now recognize that being grateful for what we have, or what we can have, is what drives me. My gratitude often hits me the strongest in the little things. For example, when I go for a sunset run after work, I pass by the community garden and Tomol Interpretive Play Area, through the campground, past the idle oil facility, and onto the Bluffs, along the way noticing things that remind me of what we have.

On just such a run, where the sounds of Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” played on my iPod helped me to recognize what I was truly seeing, I composed a poem, “Tomol, Tree, Seals.”

Tomol, Tree, Seals

Starting fresh

Getting going

The garden being tended

Passionfruit growing along the fence

The Spot

An eagle’s nest

A dolphin

The Rainbow Bridge

A tomol

Smiling tired campers rinsing off sand

The smell of campfires

Dinner grilling

Sweat soaking my shirt

The smell of the ocean

What was a meadow

Then a hole

Then a dump

A meadow again

Flowers of yellow, lavender, blue

A blue heron nearly tall as my shoulder watching me pass

Left turn at the second tree

A train’s horn

A brush rabbit scurrying ahead then stopping

Scurrying again and again as I draw near

This tortoise knowing he will win the race

Rusty leaches that sucked poison from the Earth

Poison spewed into the air

Leaches soon to be vanquished

Seals down below

Mothers with pups

Time to turn around

The sun sinking slowly

Colors abounding

Heart pumping

Lungs burning

As if on cue, a dolphin breaking the surface

Louie Armstrong in my ear reading my mind

I have two feet

Heart to pump

Lungs to burn

Struggle replaced with gratitude

Already looking ahead to the next time

Tomol, tree, seals

Vision Zero: Preventing traffic fatalities

I grew up in a big family in a house filled with the energy of a bunch of rambunctious kids. I am not sure how long it was before my parents figured out that unbreakable plastic dinner plates were a good idea, but except for holidays, that’s what we used.

This past weekend when I was using my circular saw, I used it exactly as my dad had taught me for safe use – safety goggles, placement of the wood to be cut, foot position, power cord position, and more. In retrospect, I marvel at how young I was when he first let me use the tool. There were a lot of instructions, and he was very serious about them. I had to demonstrate my technique a bunch of times with the saw unplugged before he let me use it. All that teaching was kind of dull. But when he plugged the saw in and helped me make that first cut, it was possibly as fun as the first time I got to drive a car! (The chainsaw was a few years later, but boy, that one was fun too.)

My parents could have taken a different approach. They could have decided that they wanted to use china plates. If one of us kids broke one, maybe we would only be given bread and water – don’t really need a plate for that. Or my dad could have been less directive about using power tools. He could have considered injuries from power tools somewhat inevitable. Besides, there were a bunch of us kids, and if one had a serious accident, the others would probably learn from seeing that mistake.

So, why this trip down memory lane? Hold on… I’m getting there!

Regarding the dishes, my parents apparently figured out that we were incapable of handling them appropriately, probably breaking an entire stack of them at a time roughhousing while setting the table or emptying the dishwasher. So, they engineered a solution – unbreakable plastic plates, and throw in the plastic drinking cups while you’re at it.

I have all my fingers and toes today even after a good amount of power tool usage over the years. That is a direct result of the training my dad gave me, and then the enforcement of the rules he trained me to follow. If I used any of the power tools in an unsafe way, he immediately enforced the safety rules and stopped me. Then we went back through the training… again.

Now here’s why I bring all this up… What’s another dangerous power tool that just about everyone learns to use in our teenage years? A tool many of us use almost every single day? The automobile. Each day, there are 3,700 deaths around the world from preventable traffic crashes. That is 1.3 million people each year. It is the leading cause of death for people 5 to 29 years of age.

Just this past February, two students were struck by a car while crossing Foothill Road to get to Carpinteria High School. Then later that month, a student was hit by a car while riding his bike to Carpinteria Middle School. Thankfully, none of these incidents resulted in deaths, but they are still unacceptable.

There is a strategy called “Vision Zero” being adopted around the world based on the principle that all severe or fatal transportation-related injuries are unacceptable and are preventable by prioritizing safety above all other factors on our roads. It was first implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, and its success across Europe inspired adoption in major US cities, including Santa Barbara where it was adopted in 2018.

Some core concepts of Vision Zero are:

Traffic deaths are not inevitable, but are preventable.

Human behavior is not perfect, so the system must integrate human failings.

Preventing fatal and severe crashes is more important than preventing all collisions.

The specific actions inspired by these principles fall in these areas:

Engineering: Anticipate and reduce the effects of human error – plastic plates don’t break as easily as china; separate and protected bike paths reduce car-bike conflicts.

Enforcement: Safety laws must be followed – no sawing without goggles, stop signs mean every car and bicycle must stop every time, turn signals are not optional, sidewalks are not for bikes.

Education: We all need to know how use our transportation tool safely, whether it is a car, motorcycle, bicycle or our own two feet.

If we as individuals, taxpayers and voters base our actions on the principles of Vision Zero, and demand that our government agencies do so too, then we can achieve the vision of zero severe or fatal transportation-related injuries to us, our family members, our students, or anyone in our community.

Essential workers

If you walk around the corner from Crushcakes Cafe and start down Yucca Lane toward the parking lot behind that building, you see a large mural on the wall that resembles an old-fashioned postcard showing the beach paradise and glamour that is the stereotype of California. It is a colorful image suggesting sun, fun, beauty, natural riches and carefree days.

But if you stop and look at the mural, you notice it has two areas where that image is “peeling away,” revealing something less colorful and less carefree underneath. Behind the shiny car, family beach scene, palm tree and bountiful harvest are glimpses of polluting industry, bumper-to-bumper traffic and hard-working stooped-over farm laborers. It is easy not to recognize the contributions of those who labor behind the scenes to support the stereotype of California, including our own small beach town we work hard to protect.

This reality has become painfully clear in the seven weeks since Governor Newsom issued the state-wide stay-at-home order in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Schools and many workplaces are closed leaving a multitude of people at home juggling the responsibilities of supporting remote learning, home schooling, working from home, along with more cooking and cleaning than we thought possible. Only “essential workers” are still on the job.

We can buy groceries and pick up food to go thanks to the “essential workers” in grocery stores and food preparation businesses. Those places have items to sell us because of deliveries made by truck drivers. There is something to put in those trucks because there are food processing plants supplied by farm workers growing and harvesting the food.

We can keep updated on the latest news on TV, radio, or the Internet, or just binge on Netflix because the businesses necessary to make all that work are also “essential.” Our refrigerators and lights work because electric utilities are essential. Water comes out of our taps and our toilets work because essential workers are on the job.

Almost anything else we want, we can order from Amazon or somewhere else online and have it delivered to us, making use of an entire supply chain from raw materials to factories to warehouses with transportation between each step.

And of course, if we need police, fire or medical help, we fully expect immediate response when we call 911.

For some of us, it can seem that we are on our own, providing for ourselves, making do with only what we have. We are on an island in our home reliant on nobody. Then we open the refrigerator, pull out some food from the grocery store, turn on the stove to cook it, and eat dinner in front of the TV watching a movie we always wanted to see.

But that perspective is difficult to maintain when we go to the grocery store with our masks on and speak to the checker through protective plexiglass. We are there for a few minutes then hurry back to shelter-at-home, while the cashier works her entire shift before returning home, worrying she might expose her family to any virus she may have picked up that day.

The California “postcard” mural has been in its current location since 2001 when it was created through a collaboration between a group of teen artists, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and a master artist. It is officially titled “A Climate for Health and Wealth,” a slogan included in the bottom right corner of the piece. Its installation was made possible through a partnership that included the Carpinteria Valley Arts Council (now the Lynda Fairly Carpinteria Arts Center).

The mural’s creators were referencing California’s history, as well as conditions that persist to the present day. But perhaps the message has never been as poignant and clear as it has become today.

When the danger reduces and we slowly return to “normal,” will anything be different than before? Will we collectively treat “essential workers” any differently? Will teachers be paid the same? Restaurant workers? Truck drivers? Farm workers? Gardeners? House cleaners? Delivery drivers?

Or will we just paste back down the peeling parts of the mural so we can again ignore what is underneath?