Comparing District 3 Supervisorial Candidates’ Platforms on the Environment

In the past, you may recall I urged you to vote for the environment…first and foremost. We are soon to be faced with a vote for District 3 Supervisor between Justin Cummings and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson: what are we to do if we vote primarily for the environment?

Published Platforms

You might turn to the candidates’ webpages for what they suggest are their environmental platforms.

Shebreh’s website has a single note about her environmental stance: “As a Santa Cruz City Councilmember, Shebreh is a leading voice for today’s most pressing needs” and then a list of those ‘pressing needs’ that includes the phrase “environmental stewardship.” That’s it!

Justin’s website has a lot more mention of the environment including:

  • his broad suggestion that he will “help us forge a sustainable path forward for our environment”
  • and a few specifics where he says:
    •  “We will put climate change mitigation at the forefront, continue working to reach net zero CO2 emissions, and mitigate the negative human impacts on our forests, beaches, and ocean habitats.”
    • “We will fight to protect our neighborhoods from over development, which means we will need to fight State efforts to strip local communities of land use planning decision making.”


It is worth perusing the candidates’ websites for endorsements by leaders in activism for local environmental protections. On the whole, it appears that Justin wins strongly.

Peter Scott as well as Alec and Claudia Webster endorse Justin; there are just a couple of names that stand out on Justin’s endorsement list as having been on the wrong side of environmental issues. On the other hand, there are no local environmental activist leaders on the list endorsing Shebreh…but, there are quite a few names that have been strongly on the wrong side of environmental issues. For what it’s worth, according to Justin’s website the Sierra Club has apparently endorsed him, though their website has no confirmation as such. Curiously, Sam Farr who accomplished so much for the local environment as congressman, has endorsed both Shebreh and Justin. None of the board members of local environmental activist organizations (Sierra Club, California Native Plant Society, Valley Women’s Club, and Save our Shores) endorsed either candidate except Alli Webster, Chair of the local Surfrider chapter who endorsed Justin.

Other Means of Vetting Environmental Records

We can sleuth a little about the candidates from things they’ve said or done. Here are some comparisons:


From what I can find published, Shebreh would represent a big change for what the District 3 Supervisorial representative has meant for supporting carefully planned development in the rural areas of Santa Cruz’ North County. Justin appears to represent more of the history of this position…proceeding cautiously and focusing growth closer to the already more densely built areas. Items that stand out are Shebreh’s worrisome stridency that you ‘can’t build anywhere’ and Justin’s ludicrous notion that the cement plant should/can support a significant amount of affordable housing. I do like Justin’s stance that we should fight the State’s efforts to override local control on development: not sure how that would work, though…and he doesn’t detail that.

She describes the County Planning Department, thus: “entrenched culture that is very outdated”He suggests that maybe we can redevelop the Davenport cement plant to include affordable housing  
She wants to “Change Zoning ordinance” to allow “expediting and removing barriers to building backyard ADUs.”  He has said that we need to “protect our neighborhoods from over development, which means we will need to fight State efforts to strip local communities of land use planning decision making”  
She has said that “we can’t do any kind of development anywhere.”   
She has defended her record by describing herself as a “100% yes” vote on housing projects that have come before the council.   

Climate Change

Both candidates have strong histories of supporting measures to address climate change. Shebreh has repeatedly noted her support for the local Climate Action Plan as well as specific support for renewable energy. Justin says that we need to put “climate change mitigation at the forefront, continue working to reach net zero CO2 emissions.


The candidates vary on addressing UCSC growth. You can find evidence that Shebreh has focused on reducing traffic to UCSC whereas Justin says he will “continue working to hold the University accountable for its growth and impact.

Other Things

Cannabis Cultivation

I worked with a committee on the cannabis cultivation ordinance for the County and will emphasize for the record the importance of Shebreh’s support for that committee’s recommendations, which resulted in District 3 receiving the best controls for cannabis cultivation of anywhere in the County. She was articulate, hard-working, and a good listener during that process. Some of the concerns were environmental, so she scores well on this front.

Parks and Land Management

Justin has promised to work “to address the impacts of Cotoni Coast Dairies Monument,” an increasingly important issue, though one which is not isolated to that particular open space: given his education, it is surprising that he singles that one spot out when visitor use to parks and the associated issues are much broader. Shebreh then is perhaps better, though too vague, in saying she will focus on “maintaining our county beaches, parks and open spaces.”

I will note that both candidates cast very troubling votes in favor of developing the main meadow at the Pogonip greenbelt into a farm program, including parking lots and buildings – despite those developments being prohibited by a lengthy environmental review and related long term plans. This was particularly troubling coming from Justin, who should know better.

Now to November

Given my summary, I hope that you will help draw out more environmental platforms from these two candidates. There is scant information from either candidate- especially scant in the specifics of what they can and will do to protect species, wildlife habitats, clean water, and open space for future generations.

-this article originally posted in Bruce Bratton’s BrattonOnline.com, where you can read more good stuff and even subscribe

A Mild but Disturbingly Gusty Early Summer

July Fourth was one of those epic clear days. On the drive out to the coast, we marveled at the clarity, took out binoculars and spotted ‘individual trees’ on the Monterey Peninsula way across the Monterey Bay. The Dorrance Ranch homes were Right There on the side of Mt. Toro. Peak naming phone software corrected the location of the very clear Pimkolam Peak, the farthest off. It was clear but yet surprisingly little wind. It was clear like a winter breezy day. Point Sur where the lighthouse sits in Big Sur was also very nicely visible: a curious dome, seeming like an island out past Monterey.

Wildlife on the Farm

Since then, some of summer weather has been normal; other bits not so much. As normal, morning fog has returned. Of note was the abnormal June-gloom-lessness: no fog in June! Very Odd. Now, we mostly wake to a gray-capped sky, a fog deck sometimes dipping low enough to pour small wisps over the ridges north of the Farm.  Then, the fog breaks apart, pieces here and there and then gone. A breeze picks up…and then becomes abnormal: wind land! We are increasingly living in wind land. Not pleasant breezes but hearty menacing gusts, whipping up bits of dry hay and dust devils, setting us on edge about the potential for fire. The wind dies and then breezes commence as ‘normal’….and then after a bit (or not) in no pattern whatsoever, another gust event alerts us to the presence of the out of doors. Sundown brings a welcome calm, the nights peaceful and the fog steals in again by dawn.

The hills around the Farm are turning blonde from tall oatgrass

Wildlife on the Farm

The cutest of cuties- baby bunnies are proliferating, returning to pre-fire numbers and helping graze the grass for fire control. Weeds nipped off: no expense! Bonus: kind black shiny eyes gazing at you framed by the softest mottled brown fur with a most curious jumpyscoot run only when warranted. Tiny Baby Bunnies. Everywhere: roadside, field side…

There are no deer, still. For the other fuzzy creatures, we mostly see only (fresh!) footprints. Well, there was one report of a daytime fox out the road a bit a few days ago. Oh, and MICE! Millions of mice: voles, deer mice, and harvest mice – leaping, scurrying, scuttling and squeaking away through their grassy tunnels, their woodshed nests, and as evidenced by their chewed up fabrics left only briefly outside. Underground rodent friends aka pocket gophers- still abounding like never before.

Red tailed hawk is having a field day, but just one red tailed hawk will not do it…enter the gopher snake. Huge fresh snake tracks in the dust are a common sight. Yellow bellied racers are the other regularly seen snake.  Snake sign, in general, is regular: we have lots of snakes! We hear snakes or lizards or mice startled through the dry rattly leaves along the road or trail side every few strides: a wave of critters running from our shadows when we take walks.

Lock your car doors! Here come the Zucchini!

The Fields

Rows upon rows of lanky but sturdy tomato plants are settling into their summer growth. Molino Creek Farm just watered its young tomatoes, as normal- the ‘one watering a year, after planting.’ The farmers carefully place the aluminum irrigation pipes at the right distances between the tick-tick-ticking spray of the rainbirds. Hit the buttons at the Well and out flows so much water…for hours. How deep is our soil? How deep does the water go? How deep are we saturating? Deep enough. Deep experience suggests that this is the way to go….and then on to withholding water the rest of the season. Contrast this with Two Dog Farm’s dryland farming of tomatoes: not a drop of irrigation, relying solely on the previous winter’s soil reserves of moisture. Two ways to do it, diversity in practice, and experiment in motion….Oh, and yes, you’ll have to wait another month for the first tomatoes!

Fire Work

“It seems like all we do with our spare time!” It has become critical fire clearance time! The late (March) rains grew tall grasses and now we gotta clip it down. Brush clipping, too. Truck loads piled high with precarious brush mounds are hauled out to the middle of a spare field, out away from any mischief they might cause. In 2020, the brush piles ‘burned themselves’ but it will be up to us to do that next rainy season, returning the ashy minerals to areas where we can grow hay for the orchard, cycling the farm nutrients from one corner to the next.

We had a fire clearing work party recently, many neighbors chipping in to clear to ‘bare mineral soil’ around one of our three water tank complexes. Plastic 5,000 gallon water tanks with plastic pipes going into them…all very vulnerable-flammable. So, no fuel can be left anywhere nearby. Again, trucks hauling piles of grass, leaves and branches to safe places. The Great Biomass Transportation Scheme is in motion. Same with around peoples’ houses, the barn, our outbuildings. Living in the Country isn’t what it used to be…(or is).

Many well wishes to all our friends around the American West as we set off into another hot dry fire season.

-post originally published on our Molino Creek Farm website.

A Celebration of Grass

A sometimes mysterious and much underappreciated plant family – grass. We eat it, weave it, build with it, wear it, make fuel out of it, livestock depend on it, it blankets lawns and playing fields, holds roadsides and hills in place, serves as winter cover crop in agriculture, and waves about in the prairie breeze providing bison food, grassland bird nesting habitat, and forage for the many small creatures that feed predators – wolves, coyotes, eagles, and bears.

What’s a Grass?

Grasses are all in the family Poaceae and are set apart from similar-looking plants by having a hollow stem. The rhyme goes: sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses like asses have holes in their stems. Patrick Elvander taught me that- he was an inspirational botany professor at UCSC who died too young. That rhyme deserves some decoding. Sedges mostly have triangular stems and leaves, with 3 edges to their leaf blades. Most rushes have round leaves and stems, both are solid, filled with a pith. Grasses have hollow stems like a straw.

There are more than 500 species of grass in California; around half are introduced. There are more than 200 varieties of grass in Santa Cruz County, so there’s lots to learn locally just with this group of plants!

Blue wild rye, Elymus glaucus, sending up its wand-like inflorescences

Food from Grass

Corn, rice, sorghum, barley, wheat, oats, and rye are the commonly known human food grasses. You might have a hard time telling barley, wheat, oats, and rye seeds apart when they are whole…but corn, woa- what a different looking seed! Corn is a New World grass, the others are from the other side of the world. Rice is pretty different looking (New World wild “rice” isn’t related). Each of these grasses has distinct flavors.

Grain species have been bred into varieties for different uses. For example, corn has varieties divided into: flint, flour, dent, pop, sweet, and waxy. Wheat has seven such varieties. And so on.

Native peoples ate native grasses, but we’re not sure all of the ones they used. European wild oats spread so quickly that when Old World ethnographers first encountered native peoples in northern California, they had already incorporated them in their dietary repertoire.

Holding the Soil in Place

Beyond food, grasses are useful for soil conservation. Have you ever stood in a parking lot or listened to the rain on a roof during a rainstorm?  It is noisy! That same heavy downpour falling on a grassland is quiet. The flexible grass blades intercept raindrops, lowering them gently to the ground, springing back up to catch the next one. If the rain is very heavy, the soaked blades fall over, protecting the soil.

People have long appreciated the erosion control utility of grasses around California. In Santa Cruz County, there was for a time a specific County-government mandated erosion control seed mix that was mostly grass seed. Alas, the well-meaning County had prescribed a host of species that were non-native and quite invasive, so I’m hoping no one uses it anymore. At about that same time a similarly poor policy was widely implemented across the state: seeding nonnative invasive annual rye grass seed after wildfires. There was concern about the species’ invasiveness, but the practice was only halted after scientists documented slope failure caused by the unnaturally weighty grass biomass and increased fire danger from tons of fine, flammable dead grass the next summer.

California brome grass, Bromus carinatus, a fine looking easy to establish native perennial grass

Other Uses

You probably know many interesting and useful grasses: lemon grass for Thai cooking and bamboo for stir frying new shoots and use of older shoots for plant stakes and buildings. A local woodland species, vanilla grass, has been grown in plantations for the flavoring of pipe tobacco. Many species have been woven into baskets. Broom corn, a type of millet, makes natural brooms and some midwestern towns were economically supported by this industry in the early 1900’s.

Then there is chicken scratch, cattle and horse pasture, silage for dairies, grains in the feedlots, and bales of hay in the barn: the many ways that grasses feed livestock.

Evil Grasses

Not all grasses are welcomed by livestock. Interestingly, a terribly invasive toxic perennial grass is being sold for seeding horse pastures: tall fescue. This grass easily gets infected by a fungus that is mutagenic and causes horses to miscarry! And, people seed pastures with rye grass despite its tendency to mold and cause something called ‘the staggers’ with poisoned livestock wandering around like they are drunk, losing weight and seeming quite sick.

Besides some species poisoning horses and cattle, other grasses have been bad problems. Some suggest that the collapse of the Mayan civilization was due to the invasion of their agricultural systems by uncontrollable weedy grasses (and drought). Modern agriculture is also plagued by grassy weeds. Some were enthusiastic about using herbicides for grass weeds and even genetically engineering the crops to be resistant to herbicides. Very soon, strains of Italian ryegrass became resistant to herbicides and the presence of that species on farms vastly devalued the resale value of the land.


Italian ryegrass has more notoriety: it is the most allergen filled plant known to humankind. The species proliferates with the nitrogen raining down from air pollution, and so lines highways and takes over meadows around the Bay Area. When it blossoms, everyone gets sick- even people who don’t know they have grass allergies report sore throats and coughing for the 2 weeks of its peak bloom. So, invasive non-native grasses are a health hazard – and grassland restoration and management is important for human health.


Walk in a California grassland and 80% of what you step on is non-native, mostly invasive grasses. Each year, new invasive species show up in the grasslands introduced accidently through global trade or purposefully through the nursery or turf grass industries. Once naturalized, new species evolve to become better fit and can be even more invasive.

Moseying Grasses

Did you know that bunchgrasses move around? Many of our native perennial grasses are called bunchgrasses because they grow in clumps, without runners. And yet, the stems of each clump might die on one side and new ones might sprout on the other side, so the grass clump can move around. Long term studies have monitored meters of movement in bunchgrasses over decades.

Soil Carbon and Perennial Grasses

There has been a lot of bogus hand-waving about the differences between native perennial grasses vs. non-native annual grasses. I have been hearing a lot recently that native perennial grasses have much more extensive, deep, carbon-storing root systems in contrast to exotic annual grasses. These distinctions miss the troubling invasion of non-native perennial grasses into our coastal prairies…some of those species are more robust than native perennials. Also, native perennial grasses come in many sizes with many different morphologies- some are teeny tiny (Blasedale’s bent grass, an endangered grass of Santa Cruz’ North Coast), others are very medium sized (meadow barley). I would wager that an annual exotic oat grass on rich soil would have a larger root system and sequester more carbon than the native perennial meadow barley growing alongside it.

This hand waving seems to me to be unnecessary jingoism for soil carbon sequestration via restoration of a very few species of big, burly native bunchgrasses. This is dangerous because our prairies are so much more rich than those few species of large, common native perennial grasses. Planting/stewarding just a few native grasses will cost us a wealth of other species diversity and potentially the resilience of the prairie ecosystem as a whole.

-this article originally appeared in Bruce Bratton’s BrattonOnline.com blog.


-this from my weekly post for Molino Creek Farm

Tuesday, most of the day, it was sunny but noticeably cooler. There was a breeze and then it started getting colder after noon. It was 1pm and I glanced towards the ocean and was surprised to see thick fog down there. Another look at 3:30 pm- clear at the beach but a deck of clouds suddenly obscured the whole sky. It smelled like rain, but the rain didn’t start for hours. Sometime in the early dark hours of Wednesday morning, I awoke thinking a coyote was lapping water in the birdbath, but it was the pitter patter of rain dripping from my roof into the rainwater catch buckets. It’s been raining on and off all day, raindrops vying to be the teeniest of them all: a small raindrop contest! Mist was so thick it stuck to everything on all sides, wafting in from all directions. Then some bigger drops pelt down for a bit, then misty drippiness returns, again. Everything sparkles with droplets under a silver-gray sky.

This “first significant” rain started a month earlier than the past two years, when the first real rain was at Thanksgiving…following uncomfortable lengthy hot spells. What a welcome difference! Tomorrow, we’ll have petrichor, the smell of the freshly wetted soil, which takes a bit to emerge.

Thus far, Molino Creek Farm might have had a little over a half inch of rain, judging from the rain buckets and the amount of soil wetting. Our soil is ancient- more than 300,000 years old. It is hydrophobic once dry, so wetting it takes some time…droplets scoot down soil pores or sit on the soil surface or reluctantly soak in. Once the soil starts accepting water, it takes 1” of rain to saturate 1 foot of soil. If we get the expected 4” of rain between now and Sunday, the soil will be gushy four feet down!

Ten Pound Mud Boots

As one neighbor remarked, farmers must now reluctantly stop working, though there is much to do. If we steal off to try to harvest something…and there is much to harvest…we’ll end up with “ten pound mud boots.” Farm field mud is so sticky that each step adds more globs onto your shoes, making huge hunks of mess: you are quickly 4 inches taller walking on mud platforms that stick out 3” in every direction. Lifting your feet makes your pant legs muddy, very muddy.

Boots that weigh ten pounds are good if you want to exercise without moving far, but practically speaking, they are an absolute and unarguable hinderance to vegetable harvesting. We must wait for things to dry, and that’s going to be a while. “Luckily” the show goes on…we rushed and harvested enough prior to the rain to go to market, so off to market we go. Boxes and boxes of late season delicious tomatoes, glowing piles of beautiful winter squash, piles of shiny red ripe peppers will soon grace our sales tables.

Two Dog Farm’s Beautiful and Even More Tasty Red Kuri Squah

The rain has put a stopwatch to the end of the tomato season. The wetness means melt down. Already, a wave of russet mites seriously damaged the Molino Creek Farm plants. Patches of plants started turning a characteristic russetty-brown that you can see half a mile away…the patches spread quickly in all directions, vibrant deep green healthy plants folding over to this vicious pest. And now, the rain. Thousands of tomatoes remain on the plants…

Molino Creek Farm’s Dry Farmed Tomatoes…nearly end of the season

Ravens Back to Normal…and other birds

With the advent of the rainy season, Maw and Caw are back to their normal selves. Everyday inspections of the farm reveal just these two Farm Ravens without their rowdy children or their rowdy children’s proud new mates. Once this past week there were three other ravens, Maw and Caw talking loudly to them, spinning up to meet them high above the farm. Do our two friends feel they must chase away their kids to protect their territory, now? Are the playful windy days of spring the only days they feel comfortable to reunion with their more extended families? Oh, to know the dynamics of Raven Society. I love these two, they are such good friends, and I’m so happy to see them each and every time (especially when they are hopping up and down with their characteristic wing flicks).

We have a kestrel back on the farm and a (single!) sapsucker returned. The kestrel seems to be scooping up Jerusalem crickets these days, sometimes with a few accidental grass stalks. Its plumage is particularly vibrant and so seems very healthy. Why do we only ever get one individual kestrel…and only once did another show for just one week…?? Speaking of pairs, there is, once again, only one sapsucker. So, this second widow(er?) will linger how many winters in this territory before we get another year or so with none and then a pair shows again- that seems to be our story. This got me to thinking that sapsuckers might not have that large of populations…how well are they doing?

At dusk…gliding, prowling, and perching…great horned owls: easy to see around the farm right now.

No Till Orchard Crops

Back to the mud boots…are lack thereof. As we do not till our orchards, we can walk in those, still, to harvest and to harvest some more. We are 1,000 pounds into our expected 4,000 pound harvest. Almost all we have been harvesting has been Gala apples- the old trees our forebearers planted in 1998. They were laden with the most beautiful glowing red fruit, now all boxed up or as fermenting juice for next year’s cider.

You, yes YOU can get these incredibly sweet, crunchy, and beautiful Gala apples at the Food Bin, right on the main drag…Mission Street (and Laurel) in Santa Cruz. Support us Community Orchardists and go buy a bag of these gems. An apple a day….does what? (and have you done it?)

Next up…Fuji apples. In fact, we are sending Fuji, Mutsu, Gala, and Golden Delicious apples with Judy to the Palo Alto market this Saturday. So, if you are over that way…more diversity, more deliciousness. Plus, this is the run up to the last tomatoes of the season- we might not be at markets after another 3 weeks (or sooner for the mud boots).

For internal use only, us Community Orchardists are sharing the prized quince fruits. The legendary addition to apple sauce…the quince jam…the quince juice…the smell and beauty of this novel and ancient fruit. The test this year: do we need to plant more, or is 4 bush/trees enough for our needs? Already, people are suggesting we plant more, but they sit at the markets, unmoving.

Quince! Beautiful.

Lessons from a Sad History of a Santa Cruz Park

This is a story illustrating how nature is damaged by recreation focused parks managers, and how that focus creates unfortunate adversarial situations with their fellow citizen park stewards. Soon the managers are lashing out at the very conservationists who brought them this beautiful piece of nature to protect in the public commons.

This particular tale starts out typically—environmentalists successfully saving land threatened by development and establishing a public park. This victory evolved into a barely legal and cursory process to open the park to recreation and to expand recreational access to the maximum extent feasible. Opportunities for a more balanced approach to protect wildlife habitat while providing public access were missed. Organized opposition to this unbalanced approach led to a series of unpleasant altercations, minimal mitigation requirements, and, eventually, abandonment of most environmental protections. In sum, there was inadequate resolution of disputes between parks managers and conservationists, resulting in recreationists winning and wildlife losing. Many elements of this story are evident in most other parks in Santa Cruz County, but there is hope: working together, we can improve these situations. Perhaps you can help. Please read on.

The recent conservation history of the Gray Whale Ranch began in the early 1990s when a land developer purchased a working ranch, proposing a housing development. The developer’s plans envisioned an extensive housing subdivision: a private, gated paradise. Conservationists organized and created the group “Save the Gray Whale Parklands” to oppose the proposal. Behind the public battle, others organized politically to find funding to purchase the property. Negotiations and pressure eventually succeeded, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation added Gray Whale Ranch to Wilder Ranch State Park.

Conservation purchase of a property is like a wedding, where the real work comes afterwards…. The years that followed the purchase of Gray Whale Ranch have been at times tense and rife with unfortunate surprises. Directly after the celebration of park acquisition, there was pressure to open the park for recreation. To open the park to visitors, State Parks created an Interim Use Plan to adhere to legally required public and environmental review regulations. Park management policy requires managers to thoroughly inventory natural resources, identifying sensitive areas for protection from any potential recreational development—including the extensive trails, roads, and the parking lot envisioned for this particular new park. Instead, parks planners favored a streamlined approach that ignored the locations of sensitive natural resources, expediting recreational access on the “‘existing trails” of the former ranch. Surely, they proffered, using existing ranch roads would be better than creating new trails. Similarly, State Parks’ proposed parking lot was to be situated in a purportedly degraded site, where planners suggested previous use had destroyed any sensitive natural resources. However, these claims were not supported by rigorous analysis and seemed contrary to conditions observed in the field, so once again conservationists had to organize to protect the park from this new set of threats.

It became clear that State Parks’ streamlined planning process in effect ignored input, and that the agency would proceed apace with opening the park for recreation. Even so, opposition had gained some ground on stopping the new vehicular entrance and parking lot proposal since State Parks had suggested they be located in what was clearly sensitive habitat.

After failing to improve the Interim Use Plan through the initial public and environmental review process, the conservation community had four remaining avenues to pursue: political pressure, action by either the California Coastal Commission or California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), or perhaps a lawsuit. They dismissed the last option as infeasibly expensive and unpopular, turning their attention to the other possibilities. But first, more research was needed.

With the park now open to the public and with the blessing of State Parks ecologists, conservationists organized a more careful examination of the entrance and proposed parking lot location. They collected data on locations of mima mound-associated wetlands, mapped the state-listed endangered San Francisco popcorn flower, and inventoried locations of the federally endangered Ohlone tiger beetle (OTB). All of these sensitive natural resources would be impacted by the proposed developments.

Armed with this information, conservationists first met with Assemblyman Fred Keeley, who was able to extract verbal assurances from State Parks that they would not impact rare mima mound habitat. To address concerns about enforcing resource protections, Keeley was also able to secure funding for an additional park ranger as well as establish a Gray Whale Advisory Committee to explore expanded public access while addressing resource protection. At the same time, conservationists were working with the Coastal Commission, resulting in direction that State Parks desist from developing the parking lot in sensitive habitat and instead explore other, less sensitive locations. The Coastal Commission also directed State Parks to develop an Ohlone Tiger Beetle Management Plan. Finally, upon notification of the parking lot location’s threats to the endangered popcorn flower, the California Department of Fish Game issued a letter notifying State Parks of a state law violation if they commenced with the proposed parking lot. Despite these seeming victories, State Parks proceeded with a series of unfortunate actions: developing the parking lot in sensitive habitat, ignoring the OTB planning process, destroying OTB habitat, and launching legal actions against conservationists.

Despite pressure to abandon the proposed parking lot development, State Parks started development with cement pouring for a foundation for the restrooms as well as placement of logs outlining the parking lot. Discovering the parking lot development, conservationists quickly worked to follow up on the assurances given to Fred Keeley and the Coastal Commission. Further investigation revealed a curious situation: an unprecedented hand-edited backtracking on the CDFW’s original letter to State Parks striking and replacing language, thus green-lighting the parking lot. Investigations concluded that a State Parks staff person had approached a high level CDFW staff person “friend” to achieve this result, favoring State Parks’ plans. Shortly thereafter, a State Parks staff person wrote a very threatening letter (on State letterhead) threatening one of the conservationists with legal action. This was a commonly employed strategy at the time called “Strategic Legal Action against Public Participation” or a SLAPP suit. Shortly thereafter, higher level State Parks administrators distanced the agency from this individual’s actions, but the staff person went on to file the lawsuit as an individual citizen. Amazingly, this individual’s complaint was supported by testimony of two of their subordinate employees. The lawsuit dragged on, costing thousands of dollars and untold stress; the matter was eventually settled though not before frightening other conservationists working on the issue.

Fortunately, through all of this, the Coastal Commission maintained its pressure on State Parks and was experiencing some success. Whether it was Fred Keeley or the Coastal Commission, or the embarrassment of the legal actions of its employees, State Parks eventually abandoned work on the ill-advised parking lot and turned its attention to the potential expansion of recreational trails through the work of Fred Keeley’s Gray Whale Advisory Committee (GWAC).

The GWAC’s first meeting was an unveiling of a polished plan presented by Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz for an extensive new trail system throughout the park. In a well-orchestrated maneuver to establish the basis for group’s focus, the biking community had been working with State Parks’ permission, surveying areas of the park for potential trail development. Meeting after meeting, the outnumbered conservationists on the committee repeated their testimony from earlier in the planning process: the right way to do recreational trail planning was by inventorying natural resources and subsequently planning for recreation where impacts to the most sensitive resources could be minimized. Parks administrators, clearly inexperienced and unprepared for group process, failed at any progress from the group, which eventually stopped meeting. State Parks presented the Fred Keeley with the report of failure to find a way to expand trails and eventually stopped organizing meetings. Fred Keeley had failed at his venture to secure both increased natural resource protection alongside increased public access. In one small way, this outcome might be seen as a conservation success, but in many other more significant ways it was a terrible failure. Conservationists had succeeded in stopping an expansion of official, State Parks-sanctioned trails through the many sensitive areas on the property, and yet, proposals to move existing and ill-designed access out of sensitive habitats had failed. Gradually, mountain bikers built and currently use the expansive trail system they had originally proposed with no consequence from State Parks’ enforcement staff. And so, mountain bikers got what they wanted while conservationists got little: wildlife lost habitat, and future generations have lost the chance to experience a more intact version of nature within the park.

To complete this story, we must explore two remaining legacies of the Gray Whale planning process: the outstanding Ohlone Tiger Beetle Management Plan and whatever planning process State Parks would initiate to take over where the Interim Use Plan left off.

Gray Whale Ranch is home to one of four populations of the very endangered Ohlone tiger beetle, and State Parks management of the species has been mixed. State Parks never submitted the required Ohlone tiger beetle management plan that the Coastal Commission had required for opening the park to recreation. Instead, sometime in late 2006 or early 2007, State Parks staff spread tons of gravel over very large areas of recreational trails, including in areas previously occupied by the Ohlone tiger beetle. To survive, these beetles create burrows in certain types of native soil: their larvae develop in those burrows, feeding on invertebrates passing within the reach of the burrow entrances. Adding gravel destroys Ohlone tiger beetle habitat. Gravel placement skipped the largest known area of beetle burrows: somehow, State Parks had decided to limit the species to a single area, perhaps in an effort to simplify their management and oversight. But, management at that now single site has seen some positive results: that population at times has been quite successful and healthy. Also, to State Parks’ credit, recreational users of the trails are at times able to learn about the species (when interpretive signs are maintained and legible). State Parks ecologists have even managed trail use to create additional habitat for the beetles. And yet untold but large areas of the beetle’s habitat have been destroyed and there is no published comprehensive plan for mitigating that destruction nor the ongoing destruction of their habitat throughout the park.

It has been many years since the publication of the Gray Whale Ranch Interim Use Plan, but there has been no progress on creating a longer-term plan for managing the park. According to State policy, State Parks must create a General Plan for each park. And, each General Plan is to include a carrying capacity analysis that outlines ways to balance recreational use with protection of natural resources. General Plans are subject to public review and concurrence by other agencies charged with protection of public trust resources (wildlife, clean water, plants, soils, etc.). Without further planning and improved management, the future of Gray Whale Ranch is in some ways certain and in other ways unknown. Without major changes in management, there will be continuing but gradual and severe habitat degradation from ill-planned recreational use and management. Trails have already eroded with the loss of hundreds of tons of soil that has been washed into surrounding habitats, filling wetlands and degrading streams. Unplanned and unregulated trails bisect sensitive wildlife habitat, degrading it and spreading diseases and invasive plants. The park ranger position that Fred Keeley helped to fund has long since evaporated and one very rarely sees any ranger presence at the park. Families with small children and horseback riders report feeling displaced from using the park, which has been overrun by fast moving mountain bikers on the shared trails. And yet, a small but very dedicated cadre of State Parks ecologists do what they can to restore portions of the park when they have the time.

On face value, this story is all about one place, but every element of the story has been and is currently being repeated in every park in our area. Public parks planning processes in our area are always done in contravention to best practices, failing to analyze the park for opportunities and constraints to recreational use with natural resource inventories. Parks planners point to limited resources and a rushed timeline to complete such inventories and yet reject offers by volunteers to complete those—suspect of these meddlers as “biased” and “unscientific.” As with this story, when presented with data, parks personnel ignore it. As with this story, parks planning processes are driven behind the scenes, outside of public process, by the mountain biking community in close partnership with the public parks agencies. Like the example given in this story, conservationists who actively participate in parks planning processes and attempt to increase natural resource protection are reviled by parks managers and face personal attacks and punishing retribution. When other agencies attempt to influence conservation outcomes, their work is stymied and ultimately abandoned. Sometimes, too few staff manage well-designed conservation successes but addressing only a tiny fraction of the need. Finally, parks planners who promise the necessarily ongoing and subsequent planning and monitoring fail to deliver, making temporary plans permanent, follow-up plans never materialize, and monitoring very rarely occurs.

In closing, I want to give some means of action for those who care about wildlife, clean water, and the ability for future generations to experience the wonder of nature in our parks. First, we badly need a more organized constituency for nature. The California Native Plant Society needs funding, more members, and more active members; this group offers a science-based and collaborative approach to conserving native plants including in our parks. The Wildlife Society might also benefit from increased funding, membership, and participation— this group might one day become more active in parks management planning for wildlife conservation. The Xerces Society has resolutely been protecting insects everywhere they can- including by advocating for sound public land management. Second, everyone should express concern about parks management often to their elected officials, who should be pressured to increase funding for the natural resource/ecologist positions for parks agencies. Third, people could monitor parks resources and report their findings to the agencies, perhaps even using the popular iNaturalist application during organized bioblitzes: long term monitoring of trends using the same methods could be powerful. Fourth, assisting volunteer groups in removing invasive species from parks would have very direct positive impact: there are regularly organized opportunities throughout our area. Fifth, following up on any aspect of the above story in any park would be useful—ask questions, investigate, document, and stay involved … that attention could garner results. And, finally, participation in the public processes for planning in parks; learn from others about how to do this effectively and teach others what you’ve learned. Though my story seems grim, together many conservationists have accomplished much. There are many others working on these issues right now. Every success to protect nature in parks means a better chance of a child a hundred years off experiencing natural wonder on their visits to parks. I hope you will help.

Experts Weigh in on Monument Proposal: Sensitive Natural Resources of Cotoni Coast Dairies


The BLM-managed Cotoni Coast Dairies property is being proposed for National Monument status, but thus far proposed legislation lacks language typical in such proclamations that recognizes the natural and geologic features which make this place special. This brief proposes such language as reviewed by the region’s experts in this area and its natural resources.


The following language about the Cotoni Coast Dairies property contains information about natural and geologic features of national significance as reviewed for accuracy by regional experts familiar with the property. Natural resources presented here include plant and animal species that are found in few other places. Bird species are included if they are suspected of breeding on the property. Because the property has historically been in private ownership and biological investigation has been largely prohibited, this list is not meant to be exhaustive. Experts who reviewed the proposed language for their areas of expertise are included in Appendix 1.

 Proposed Language

“Because of its history, topographic features, and water resources, Cotoni Coast Dairies is a property notable for its species-rich, diverse habitats as well as its sensitive plants and wildlife. The property is located in one of the richest biodiversity hot spots in North America. Many species of plants and wildlife found on the property are listed as rare, sensitive, threatened or endangered under Federal, State, and local laws. These include: Point Reyes horkelia, Choris’ popcornflower, Santa Cruz manzanita, steelhead, coho salmon, California red-legged frog, western pond turtle, white-tailed kite, northern harrier, olive-sided flycatcher, Bryant’s savannah sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, tricolored blackbird, San Francisco dusky-footed woodrat, and American badger (for a complete list, see Appendix 2).

Cotoni Coast Dairies is replete with wild and diverse landscapes and climatic micro-habitats that support unique biotic assemblages. These include deep, riparian canyons containing seven nearly undeveloped watersheds and clear-running streams that have been rarely impacted by humans. Ridges contain intact lowland maritime chaparral, a threatened and species-rich, fire adapted ecosystem endemic to low elevations along the California coast. The property’s four marine terraces contain an ecological staircase providing a unique localized profile of ancient soil development and evolution. Each of these terraces contains sensitive and unique assemblages of coastal prairie grasslands, of which more than 40 types have been documented from the vicinity. The extensive coastal scrub on the property includes species-rich rocky outcrops and large areas inaccessible to humans. The property contains numerous wetlands and springs, which are buffered by the maritime environment and fed by healthy watersheds that provide spawning, breeding, and foraging habitat for fish, amphibian and aquatic reptile species including steelhead, California red-legged frog and western pond turtle. The rare ecosystems of redwood, Shreve oak, and Monterey pine forests on the property are globally significant. The relative isolation of the property provides core wildlife habitat to a particularly diverse mammalian carnivore community including mountain lion, American badger, gray fox, long-tailed weasel, bobcat, and coyote. The grasslands on the property likewise support foraging habitat for an unusually abundant and diverse raptor community including: white-tailed kite, golden eagle, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, ferruginous hawk, American kestrel, American peregrine falcon, short-eared owl, barn owl, and burrowing owl.”

Appendix 1: Expert Reviewers

These persons provided review of the proposed language for their areas of expertise.

Name Expertise, Affiliation
Mark Allaback Certified Wildlife biologist

Biosearch Associates


Don Alley D.W. ALLEY & Associates

Certified Fisheries Scientist


Sandra Baron Ecologist


Phil Brown



Santa Cruz Bird Club


Dr. Don Croll Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

University of California at Santa Cruz


Dr. Gage Dayton Ecologist

University of California at Santa Cruz


Carleton Eyster Coastal Ecologist


Steve Gerow


Past President and County Records Keeper

Santa Cruz Bird Club


D. Kim Glinka Wildlife Biologist


Dan Grout Wildlife Biologist

Grout Wildlife Research

Brett Hall


California Native Plant Program Director

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum


Grey Hayes, PhD Botanist/Restoration Ecologist


Kim Hayes Biologist/Conservation Lands Manager


Dr. David Kossack San Andreas Land Conservancy


Kerry Kriger, PhD Executive Director



Inger Marie Laursen Wildlife Ecologist


Dr. Bruce Lyon Avian Ecologist

University of California at Santa Cruz

Bryan Mori Certified Wildlife Biologist

Bryan Mori Biological Consulting

Watsonville, CA


Dylan Neubauer


Elliot Schoenig Herpetologist


Lisa Sheridan


Conservation Officer

Santa Cruz Bird Club


Dr. Dean Taylor



California Academy of Sciences


Jim West




Appendix 2: Sensitive Species of the Cotoni Coast Dairies Property.

Common name Latin name Rarity Status
California red-legged frog


Rana draytonii Federally Threatened

CA Species of Special Concern


Coho salmon Oncorhynchus kisutch Federally and State Endangered

(central California coast ESU)


Steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss irideus Federally Threatened

(central California coast DPS)


White-tailed kite Elanus leucurus


CA Fully Protected



Bryant’s savannah sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis alaudinus


CA Species of Special Concern
Ferruginous hawk


Buteo regalis California Watch List



Grasshopper sparrow Ammodramus savannarum CA Species of Special Concern (nesting)


Northern harrier Circus cyaneus


CA Species of Special Concern (nesting)


Olive-sided flycatcher


Contopus cooperi CA Species of Special Concern (nesting)


Tricolored blackbird Agelaius tricolor


CA Species of Special Concern

(nesting colony)


American badger Taxidea taxus CA Species of Special Concern


San Francisco dusky-footed woodrat Neotoma fuscipes



CA Species of Special Concern
Western pond turtle Actinemys marmorata CA Species of Special Concern


Common name Latin name Rarity Status
Choris’ popcornflower Plagiobothrys chorisianus var. chorisianus


California Rare Plant Rank (CRPR) List 1B
Point Reyes horkelia Horkelia marinensis


CRPR List 1B
Santa Cruz Manzanita Arctostaphylos andersonii


CRPR List 1B
California bottlebrush grass Elymus californicus


CRPR List 4
Michael’s rein orchid Piperia michaelii


CRPR List 4
Bolander’s goldenaster Heterotheca sessiliflora subsp. bolanderi


Locally rare1
Brownie thistle Cirsium quercetorum


Locally rare1
Cascades oregon grape Berberis nervosa


Locally rare1
Coast barberry Berberis pinnata subsp. pinnata


Locally rare1
Coastal larkspur Delphinium decorum subsp. decorum


Locally rare1
Common muilla Muilla maritime


Locally rare1
Elmer fescue Festuca elmeri


Locally rare1
Fire reedgrass Calamagrostis koelerioides


Locally rare1
Hoary bowlesia


Bowlesia incana


Locally rare1
Narrow leaved mule ears Wyethia angustifolia


Locally rare1
Round woolly marbles Psilocarphus tenellus


Locally rare1
Salmon berry Rubus spectabilis


Locally rare1
Woolly goat chicory Agoseris hirsuta


Locally rare1


1 Locally rare species were not included in the suggested language but may deserve mention; these species are recognized by experts as deserving of protection because of their local rarity.

Post Scripts:

  • I submitted the above to representatives and agencies responsible for National Monument designation including the Obama Administration, Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Senators Boxer and Feinstein, Congresswomen Capps and Eshoo.
  • Letters of support for this proposal included with submission from the Trust for Public Lands, Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, Audubon California, California Native Plant Society, Sierra Club, Valley Women’s Club of San Lorenzo Valley, Save the Frogs, and the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County