Bear cannisters and face masks

It started with a tweet just a few weeks ago:

“The temporary backcountry camping closure is now expanded due to multiple incidents of one or more black bears obtaining food from backpackers.”

And with that, a year of planning was out the window. The entire backcountry wilderness of Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California was closed to overnight camping. So much for our carefully-planned and long-awaited six-day backpacking trip.

There had been multiple reports from visitors of bears going into backpackers’ campsites and searching backpacks for food. This only happens if bears are sometimes successful and actually find food. But that would never occur if backpackers followed the park’s strict regulations about using “bear cannisters” to hold all food and scented items, putting those bear cannisters 100 feet away from camp overnight, and keeping no food in backpacks.

However, due to a small number of backpackers who choose to act like the rules don’t apply to them, the bears (which are quite clever) learned that backpacks might have food. Unlike some places (such as Yosemite Valley) where such bear “training” has been a problem for many years, at Lassen this is a significant shift.

The bears probably originally followed their keen sense of smell to find food which was foolishly left in a backpack. That find was enough for the bears to associate backpacks with food. The closure is expected to last for at least a few months to “un-train” the bears and get them to return to foraging for their natural food sources. Given the chilly fall weather and chance of early snow in the mountains, this will likely mean no backpacking in Lassen for anyone until next spring.

Why did this happen? A small number of people flaunted the simple and common-sense rules about backpacking in bear country. In so doing, they not only put themselves at risk, but also put others at risk of serious injury or even death. Additionally, the fallout of their actions is affecting untold numbers of us who have been planning, anticipating and training for our backpacking trips.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is over 500 miles from Carpinteria. But can you think of another situation we are experiencing right now that bears any resemblance to what I described in Lassen? 

For our own safety, for the safety of those around us, and for the safety of the entire community, we are required to stay at least six feet away from people we do not live with, and we are required to wear masks in most indoor public places, and outdoors when we cannot stay six feet away from others.

Distancing and wearing a mask can be a bit of a nuisance (as is using a bear cannister), but it’s really not that difficult. The possible outcome of ignoring the simple and common-sense rules is continued spread of Covid-19 through our community putting people’s health and lives at risk, and extending the time until children can safely return to school, friends can socialize, and we can again greet each other with a handshake or a hug.

I am surprised how often I am on sidewalks or trails that are not six feet wide, and I pass someone with a mask under their chin, in their hand, or with no mask at all. Or I see people wearing masks but standing or walking shoulder-to-shoulder as if the mask is a magic talisman that is guaranteed to ward off the evil coronavirus. (Wearing a mask does not take the place of physical distancing.)

Even in the pages of the Coastal View News, just about every week there is at least one photo of some group of people not following state and county rules. Every one of these examples is documentation of a potential extension of how long this crisis will last.

Backpackers need to take bear safety seriously, and if we don’t, entire parks can be closed. This is true even though there are only about 40 attacks per year by bears globally and around six deaths per year.

Worldwide, there are now over 18 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and over 700,000 deaths. Abiding by distancing and mask requirements seem like rather obvious steps to take.

If it helps, think of coronavirus as being a hungry bear; if you don’t physically distance and wear a mask, that hungry bear might come after you.

Role models

Think about someone who has been a role model for you at some point in your life. It may be a parent or a teacher, an older brother or sister, possibly a mentor at work, or maybe someone you never even met, but who inspired you to accomplish something. How might things have been different for you without the influence of that role model?

I firmly believe that something that makes Carpinteria special is that we have more than our share of positive role models – people who generously give their time, their experience, their skills or their money for the benefit of our community.

Just browsing through the Coastal View News or scanning Facebook or Nextdoor presents us with multiple examples of our neighbors going above and beyond what is “required.” Examples are often easy to see in the activities of our wonderful service clubs and amazing volunteer organizations. We are lucky that so many local businesses provide extra service when needed or generously support local causes.

Less visible are the everyday actions of individuals. For every Coastal View News “Halo,” there are many, many other examples of friends and even strangers, modeling what it means to be a “neighbor” by helping someone right when they need it.

We may think of a role model as someone whose entire life or cumulative accomplishments are worthy long-term goals for us. But consider the potential effect of a single small action. When I see someone help an elderly stranger separate a stuck shopping cart from the corral at the supermarket entrance, I am reminded to notice when someone is struggling with something I can easily help with. That simple helpful action will stick with me for more than a moment and provide me an example I can copy.

Now let’s turn things around a bit. Some drivers who see others driving 70 MPH through the freeway construction zone may not be as careful about the 55 MPH speed limit. If multiple people walking down Linden Avenue drop pieces of trash on the sidewalk, some who see that behavior may be less careful about not littering.

Role modeling works both ways. Its effect is part of human nature. It’s how we fit into our community. We tend to norm our behaviors to what we observe around us, whether it is positive or negative.

While we see many positive role models, we also see an unfortunate number of examples that do not help our community, and which, during this time of Covid-19, can directly damage the health of our neighbors.

Unfortunately, negative role models are all too visible, even in the pages of the Coastal View News. For example, just a few weeks ago, illustrating an article about the then upcoming off-leash dog park pilot program at El Carro Park were six photos of dogs off leash at that park, including one photo on the cover of the paper! The pilot program had not even begun when that paper was published. The obvious message was that even though off-leash dogs were not allowed at all yet, and would only be during certain hours once the pilot program started, it seemed to be OK to have off leash dogs there at any time.

Just the other day I saw a Carpinteria Sheriff deputy driving down Via Real with a cell phone to his ear.

This week an employee in a local supermarket was cleaning the meat counter wearing a cloth mask that was not covering his nose.

A father and young son were riding bikes together (great!)… on the sidewalk in front of 7-11… neither with a helmet.

Coastal View News recently reported on the county’s Health Order prohibiting gatherings. Yet in that same edition there were photos of prohibited gatherings, one of a local non-profit doing a litter cleanup and another of a service organization gathering at the beach. The people in each of those photos were within spitting distance of each other and not all from the same household. It would have been easy to have set up each photo such that everyone was in it, but safely physically distanced from one another. The wearing of masks does not eliminate the requirement to maintain six feet distance when that distance is feasible, and posing for a photo for the newspaper does not qualify as making six-foot distancing “not feasible.” 

Role models matter. The welfare and health of our community matters. Consider carefully how your actions affect those around you. Our community benefits from positive role models – be one!

Carp Rocks!

This year has presented enormous challenges. Stay-at-home orders, online schooling, empty grocery store shelves, cancellations of events and gatherings – they all impacted people differently, but nobody was unaffected. Added to this were periods of air choked with smoke from wildfires near and far. On top of everything was the flow of national news about racial and social injustice, nearly unimaginable political events and even extreme hurricanes. I know this is not what I expected one year ago tonight on New Year’s Eve 2019.

Despite this, we were lucky here in Carpinteria. Unlike recent years, we were free from fires and floods. We were able to break up stay-at-home time with walks in our neighborhoods, along our beach, on the bluffs, around the salt marsh or up the Franklin Trail. Our weather allowed us to spend time outdoors, even through December. We even had fresh local produce available to us year-round.

But our luck only takes us so far. This year’s events required more of us, and our community responded with remarkable resilience and creativity. Restaurants converted to take-out and delivery remarkably quickly and with support from the city to set up the necessary traffic and parking controls. When supermarket shelves were empty in April, Delgado’s offered curbside pickup of the basics they could get a hold of such as eggs, rice, beans, vegetables and even bleach and toilet paper. Local distribution of food by Foodbank of Santa Barbara County shifted into high gear.

In a remarkable display of grassroots community-minded action, by the first week of April a set of Arbol Verde neighbors calling themselves Neighbor-to-Neighbor had made an amazing 3,000 cloth masks they distributed first to local homeless, then to essential workers. There is no way to tell for sure, but it is reasonable to believe this action was an important factor in keeping the Covid-19 case rate relatively low in our area (so far).

Other community members helped keep our spirits up as the year progressed. One local bagpiper played every evening at sunset. As summer turned to fall, the Carpinteria Arts Center provided us a creative outlet with “Mask-Up Carp Chalk Art” over Labor Day Weekend. Then as Christmas approached, a neighborhood Santa danced on his roof each evening.

But there is one community-wide effort that is a uniquely Carpinteria display? Or maybe it is better called an activity? Event? The Carp Caterpillar!

In July, a few creative people painted 89 rocks and placed them in a row along Linden Avenue as an invitation for anyone interested to contribute to this public art display. Many rocks were decorated with inspirational thoughts, and people were invited to take one if it was especially meaningful to them, as long as they left a new one (or more) to help the caterpillar grow. Within a couple months, the caterpillar grew to over 1,000 rocks and stretched for blocks along Linden.

As I think about the Carp Caterpillar’s growth, I can’t help but see it symbolizing our Carpinteria community. We are made up of a bunch of individuals of different sizes, shapes and colors. Many are locals, but our community includes visitors (who also have painted and contributed rocks to the Carp Caterpillar). Each member has a place and contributes to the whole. Some leave, others are added in. Everyone is part of the community.

Now on New Year’s Eve, we look ahead to 2021. While the Covid-19 vaccine is beginning to be administered, the pandemic is spreading at a faster rate than ever before – new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, both nationwide and in California. New variants of the coronavirus have been identified in Britain and South Africa. What will 2021 look like?

Nobody knows how events will unfold nationwide or across the world. But I can say with complete confidence that what happens right here is up to us.

Yes, we are tired of all the impacts and precautions. We want schools and businesses open. We want to attend public events. We want others to see us when we smile at them. We want to be able to give a friend a hug.

We can do these things the soonest if we recommit to the public health measures we know all too well by now: avoiding gatherings, maintaining physical distance, wearing a mask and washing hands.

While there’s a lot  we cannot control, this is one area where the outcome is up to us. When we look back at 2021 next New Year’s Eve, I hope we can continue to take pride in what we achieved, think about the Carp Caterpillar, and say, “Carp Rocks!”

Vote! Everything depends on it

My first exposure to the nuts and bolts of the land development process was in late 1989 when a notice arrived in the mail about an upcoming hearing for a proposal to build a 300-house ocean-front development on a sweeping and beloved blufftop area near our home in Goleta. I had finished my degree at UCSB a few months earlier, and Diane and I had just married and moved to the area the previous month.

We attended the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) scoping hearing, met several of our neighbors for the first time, and found we all had concerns about the proposed project. Over the next few months, we learned from other neighbors who had some knowledge about the planning process and provided our public comment on the EIR as it was developed. The huge negative impacts of the project were becoming clearly documented in the EIR, and we felt confident that it would be obvious to decision makers that this project couldn’t be approved. We had succeeded! (Spoiler alert: Nope.)

More months passed as the developer submitted last-minute changes to the plan necessitating further analysis. After three years of various twists and turns, the County Planning Commission voted in November 1992 to recommend denial of the project. Finally, real victory! (Spoiler alert: Again, nope!)

The developer had one more shot at the County Board of Supervisors who would consider the Planning Commission recommendation but could still approve or deny the project. Through winter and spring of 1993, the supervisors reviewed the proposal, and in June they were ready to decide.

Now let me backup a little. Then, as now, Santa Barbara County politics were deeply divided along North vs. South, pro-development vs. slow-growth perspectives. In November 1992, South County resident Bill Wallace was the incumbent Third District Supervisor being challenged by North County resident Willy Chamberlin. That election went down in history as the closest supervisorial election in county history. The certified election result showed Chamberlin winning by seven votes. A month-long recount resulted in Chamberlin’s margin being reduced to only five votes. In January 1993, he was sworn into office as supervisor. For the first time in decades, three of the five supervisors were pro-development.

Wallace contested the election in court claiming dozens of valid votes were not counted in Isla Vista, which had voted exceptionally strongly in his favor. Court decisions were made, an appeal was filed, and things were still in process in June 1993.

With Chamberlin still in office as supervisor, he voted with the two other pro-development supervisors to approve the housing project. Oh no! We lost! (Spoiler alert: Nope to that too.)

Fast forward through Coastal Commission actions and various lawsuits filed by the group we had formed with our neighbors. In April 1994, 17 months after the election, a state Court of Appeals ruled Chamberlin did not win, but in fact lost by 12 votes. He was replaced on the Board of Supervisors by slow-growth advocate Bill Wallace… but all Chamberlin’s decisions stood.

Although heavily constrained by the Board’s previous decisions, with Wallace on the Board new decisions began to shift the trajectory of the project. Again, fast-forward through years of more lawsuits, more elections, and more county and Coastal Commissions decisions. In 2005, escrow closed on a complex deal that permanently protected the coastal blufftop under public ownership. Wait, we finally won? YES!

We have all heard stories about how “every vote counts,” maybe in an election in some town in Iowa with 132 people where some guy loses the race for dogcatcher by one vote because he and his wife were too busy campaigning to vote. But the Wallace-Chamberlin election had over 36,000 votes cast, and the margin of victory was seven… until it was 12 the other way.

“Every vote counts”? Yes. But it really only counts if it is submitted correctly and on time. In grade school we were taught to follow directions carefully. Quite possibly, the most important reason for that lesson was so we could make sure our vote would count when we grew up.

Here is one way to summarize what is required for a democratic society to prosper:

Step 1: You must care enough to want to make a difference.

Step 2: You must act to make that difference.

In this column, I often address aspects of both steps, generally with the goal of motivating you to tell our civic leaders what is important to you. But I hope you can see from my experience above that this effort can be wasted time if you don’t care enough to act with your vote to select leaders who will work in your best interest—at the local, state and national levels.

Vote! Everything depends on it.

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?