Archive for February, 2009

Rain at the Bluffs

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

It rained a lot on Friday, and on Saturday morning, but by Saturday afternoon the sun was out, so I took a walk at the bluffs.

This tree, which is one of the eucalyptus trees that grow along the Artist’s Passage at the bluffs, always makes me think of the anthropomorphized trees that try to grab Snow White when she’s lost in the forest:


The management plan for the bluffs has some interesting elements. One of them is that the (non-native) eucalyptus trees along the Artist’s Passage won’t be removed. They can be replaced over time with native trees (presumably sycamores), but the intention is that there will always be a row of mature trees along that part of the bluffs.

Another interesting provision of the management plan concerns the open meadow areas. The city is required to preserve those meadows as part of preserving the visual character of the bluffs. But the city is specifically prohibited from using motorized equipment (like a tractor) to do so.

My understanding is that before the public acquisition of the bluffs those meadows were plowed every few years using a tractor; that’s what kept them meadows. Now that process has stopped. What does that mean? Will the meadows gradually be replaced by coastal sage scrub?

I’ve asked Andrea Adams-Morden about it, and she says nobody really knows. Most of the grasses in the meadows are non-native African species. In a contest between them and the native scrub, which will win? My guess is that eventually the scrub will win. That would seem to conflict with the “maintain the meadows” language in the management plan, but with the process of succession being so slow (at least by human standards), and with the more-obvious means of meadow maintenance (either plowing or fire) either explicitly prohibited or politically infeasible, I think the likeliest outcome is that the meadows will gradually turn into scrub.

Here’s a view from the Rhodes Fleming Coastal Trail, looking north toward the Bailard Avenue parking. There’s meadow, but there’s also a fair amount of coyote bush (which has been dispersing into the area via its wind-blown seeds). I wonder what this will look like in 10 or 20 years.


Down at the seal overlook, the seal watch volunteer that I chatted with was annoyed: a few minutes before my arrival a jogger passed by, jogging from right to left. You can see the jogger’s tracks near the bottom of the sandy area in the shot I took:


A baby harbor seal, born that morning, was among the seals that stampeded into the water when the jogger passed by. That’s really dangerous for the baby seals; they can be trampled, and in general, the more the seals are disturbed the greater the chances that the pups will become separated from their mothers. As I stood there talking with the volunteer, though, a young seal that she identified as the pup in question emerged from the water, so hopefully things worked out okay in this case.

On my way back I stopped by a spot on the north side of the Artist’s Passage, where someone has erected a teepee of sticks to mark where oil has been oozing from the ground. The management plan refers to this location specifically; it describes it as being either an abandoned well or a natural seep, and calls for the city to figure out which one it is and, if it’s an abandoned well, to cap it and clean it up.

I don’t know if the question has been definitively answered. I know Susan Allen is convinced it’s an abandoned well, and it does seem like an odd place for a natural seep. I’d like to investigate the issue more, maybe in the photo archives at the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History. I’d be really interested to know if there are any historical photos that show oil drilling there.

It’s a relatively minor issue, as such concerns go. But I think it has some relevance as Carpinterians think about Venoco’s latest action. Last week Venoco said it was withdrawing the Paredon proposal that has been working its way through the city’s planning process. Now the company is pushing for a direct ballot initiative to approve the project.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say on that in the future. For now, I think about this patch of oil at the bluffs, and what it symbolizes. Presumably someone dug a well there once. Maybe they made some money. Maybe they didn’t. Eventually, though, they moved on. When they did, they left behind a bit of a mess that Carpinterians are dealing with to this day.


Construction Projects, Before and After

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

I drive a ridiculous amount during the week. When the weekend comes, I really appreciate that I live in a town small enough that I can get around without driving. I also appreciate that William is the kind of kid who, when I ask if he wants to walk downtown for lunch, will answer, “Sure.”

I’ve taken a couple of walks with him lately that took us past some interesting building projects. One is the Lavender Court condos on Carpinteria Avenue. This project is the reason I’m on the planning commission, more or less. After I wrote a letter about Lavender Court on behalf of the Carpinteria Valley Association, Mike Ledbetter and the other city councilmembers gave me the chance to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, by appointing me to the commission.

One thing I mentioned in my CVA letter was the way the project blocks mountain views along Carpinteria Avenue. Here’s the artist’s rendering that was used in ads promoting Lavender Court. This same rendering was on display in the front row when the project’s developer came before the planning commission recently seeking changes in Lavender Court’s conditional use permit:


One point I made in my CVA letter is that the rendering is misleading, because it shows the tops of the Santa Ynez Mountains as being visible above the buildings. Here’s a shot I took on my walk with William the other day (you can see our shadows at the bottom):


See the mountains above the rooftops of the project? Um, right. You can’t.

You can view a few more shots that I took if you click through to the Flickr photostream. Looking at those shots, and at the artist’s rendering, I can see both sides of the issue. The rendering is accurate, in the sense that if you viewed that project from a little ways south of the street — which apparently is the viewpoint the rendering is using — you’d be able to see the mountains over the top of the buildings. But the reality is, the view that the public sees is more like the one in my photos, with the mountains hidden. In hindsight, I think the mountain views along Carpinteria Avenue — which the city’s general plan specifically calls for preserving — were harmed by Lavender Court.

I wasn’t on the planning commission when Lavender Court was approved. But even if I had been, I doubt I would have said anything about the mountain views. The rendering makes it look like a non-issue. Also, city staff argued at the time, and the planning commission and the city council agreed, that there would be no negative impacts, since views would be maintained through the driveways, and on either side of the buildings.

Live and learn.

On the way back home from a recent walk, William and I detoured to the salt marsh, which meant walking along Dorrance Way. We passed the site of a project that has come before the planning commission a few times during the past year; the owners had to go back and forth with the city a bit before getting approval to demolish an existing single-story bungalow and replace it with a two-story house.

As we passed the lot, I saw that the bungalow is gone. Here’s the picture I snapped through the chain link:


I’m looking forward to seeing what the finished house looks like.

One more piece of construction we came across during our walk was this new entrance to the salt marsh. It’s down near the north end of Ash Avenue, so people visiting the marsh from that side can enter without having to hop the fence, or having to walk farther down Ash toward the beach.