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This is the tale of two Fradkins:

1. Philip Fradkin 1974 and 2011
2. Philip Fradkin, father and Alex Fradkin, his son.

Philip and Alex have published The Left Coast – California On The Edge, written by Philip, with accompanying photos taken by Alex.  The two have spent the past five years writing about, and snapping images of, the choices that we’ve made the past one hundred years in utilizing our shoreline.

These choices entail lumber production, preservation of open space, farming communities suffering withdrawal from the reverberating booms of mass housing developments, exploited fisheries, beaches as recipients of sewage line detritus, a globally-influential harbor, and, armed Feds.

After reading the text and viewing the photos, one walks away with a throbbing question, How does such a mixed-use coast mediate conflicting interests?

The Left Coast is not the archetypal published fare of coffee table books waxing poetic on images of uninhabited coastline or long rural stretches of the coast road.  The Left Coast charges the reader to consider how our current imagery of California is no longer that of the plein air artists, who, at the turn of the nineteenth century, captured landscapes and coastscapes without power lines, asphalt, and buildings.

Two of my favorite photos taken by Alex are not typical “landscape-y” or “coastscape-y” photos.

In the chapter entitled, “The Military Coast,” a photo of a young servicewoman is dwarfed dockside before the USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier, home-ported at NS North Island, San Diego.  Philip writes,”Beach replenishment – viewed as a God-given, or rather a navy-gifted, right in San Diego – is a bit of a misnomer.  To replenish is to make complete again.  The beaches had been historically narrow, the Silver Strand being a thin barrier spit when the Hotel Del was first built.  They bulked up only when wide beaches were seen as a profitable tourist attraction, chambers of commerce promoted their mythic existence, and the navy supplied the sand – a massive thirty-seven million cubic yards to the Silver Strand since 1940, making it the most modified beach in California.  There was a second purpose for the so-called replenishment.  The sand was meant not only to give pleasure but also to protect coastal developments, which in San Diego County had been “built too low, too close to the beach, or without sufficient setbacks from the cliff edges.””

“The navy began dredging, with the clean sand going to replenish the nine beaches stretching from Oceanside to Imperial Beach.  Problems developed.  An unexploded mortar shell was found on the Oceanside beach where some of the sand had been pumped ashore.”

My other favorite photo, found in the chapter, “The Recreational Coast,” is, “RVs camped on beach.  Oceano Dunes, 2007.”  Ocean Dunes SVRA is a hot land-use debate between those who believe beaches are for feet versus those recreationists who desire to drive motorized vehicles across the beach and along its sand dunes.

The Left Coast is not Philip’s first published effort.  In 1974, Philip published California, The Golden Coast, which included photographs by Dennis Stock to support Philip’s text.  Dennis’ photos evoke that blissful, dreamy California of which we vacation along the coast road to experience, the coast that enviros fight for; photos perfectly-suited for a glossy coffee-table book. California, The Golden Coast, makes a delightful companion piece to The Left Coast, that is, if you can find it.

Alex accompanied Philip on the field research trips for this book, thus these two books tie together: In 1974, father and son travel the coast, for father to write a book. Thirty years later, father and son embark upon a journey to produce a book together.

Purchase The Left Coast – California On The Edge.

Alex’s website.

Philip’s website.

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A book read from cover to cover is a rare read.  Front cover text, Publisher, Glorious Cover Image, Inside Flaps (About the Book and About the Author), the Copyright page, and the Acknowledgments.  Included in this pleasure, an enjoyable Introduction, before, finally, settling upon the text.

The Place That Inhabits Us is that kind of rare read.  The Place That Inhabits Us is a book of Poems of the San Francisco Watershed. “From the granite slopes of the Sierra to the Delta, through the Coastal Range to the bay and shores of the Pacific, one hundred poems map this improbable region, a cultural crossroads where East meets West.”  The Place That Inhabits Us is a Sixteen Rivers Press book.  Sixteen Rivers Press lists 24 other books of poetry published in the past 12 years of the publishing house’s existence.

The cover is a woodcut image, “Golden Gate (& Mt. Tamalpais) from Grizzly Peak” by Tom Killion.  Regard that beautiful cover.  Fine detail and a presence of fading daylight.  The perennial fogbank waits patient at the Gate.

The Forward to The Place That Inhabits Us, written by Robert Hass, the United States’ Poet Laureate from 1995 to 1997, introduces the reader to this fine anthology with a plausible glimpse into California’s prehistory.  “The first thing they (California’s earliest citizens) seem to have done is hunt to extinction the megafauna that brought them here, as they tracked herds across the Aleutian land bridge.”  The second thing these ancestors did, according to Hass, “is make trails.  Probably they followed along rivers and streams as they drained into lakes and wetlands and coastal beaches.”

Along the edges of water sources were paths.  Water creates gullies, breaches in the sediment, yet, along the shoreline, within the mean tide line, is the space in which people traveled.

“These humans had already had speech for at least ten millennia.  They arrived here just about the time when written languages were beginning to appear in Sumner and Egypt.  And they came – in what must have been the successive waves of immigrants who peopled the Americas – speaking many languages, languages as distinct from one another as Hungarian and Chinese.  For reasons that are still unclear, more different peoples speaking distinctly different languages settled in California than in all the rest of continental North America combined.  Of the nearly 300 languages described by Europeans as they advanced across the continent, nearly eighty were spoken in the watersheds of Northern California.”

We do not know the names of our earliest authors who told the story of Coyote, Turtle, and Rattlesnake.  We do know the names of those Calibornia boys who chorused, “I wish they all could be California girls.”  After Robert Hass’ Introduction to The Place That Inhabits Us, we meet the 100 authors of the poems of the San Francisco Bay Watershed.  I will share one here, I would like to share at least a dozen.  Buy the book to enjoy the other fine poems published in this wonderful watershed anthology.

from An Atlas of the Difficult World
Adrienne Rich

Within two miles of the Pacific rounding
this long bay, sheening the light for miles
inland, floating its fog through redwood rifts and over
strawberry and artichoke fields, its bottomless mind
returning always to the same rocks, the same cliffs, with
ever-changing words, always the same language
-there is where I live now. If you had known me
once, you’d still know me now though in a different
light and life. There is no place you ever knew me.

But it would not surprise you
to find me here, walking in the fog, the sweep of the great ocean
eluding me, even the curve of the bay, because as always
I fix on the land. I am stuck to earth. What I love here
is old ranches, leaning seaward, lowroofed spreads between rocks
small canyons running through pitched hillsides
liveoaks twisted on steepness, the eucalyptus avenue leading
to the wrecked homestead, the fogwreathed heavy-chested cattle
on their blond hills. I drive inland over roads
closed in wet weather, past shacks hunched in the canyons
roads that crawl down into darkness and wind into light
where trucks have crashed and riders of horses tangled
to death with lowstruck boughs. These are not roads
you knew me by. But the woman driving, walking, watching
for life and death, is the same.

USDA Forest Service
The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.
Motto: Caring for the Land and Serving People

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
The mission of the GGNRA is the preservation, unimpaired, of the natural and cultural resources, and scenic and recreation values, of the park for present and future generations to enjoy.

California State Parks
Our Mission: To provide for the health, inspiration and education of the people of California by helping to preserve the state’s extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources, and creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation.

California Coastal Conservancy
The Coastal Conservancy acts with others to preserve, protect and restore the resources of the California Coast.
Our vision is of a beautiful, restored and accessible coastline.

California Coastal Commission
The mission of the Coastal Commission is to: Protect, conserve, restore, and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations.

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Stop the Spray ::

Have you seen evidence of roadside broadcast spraying along your stretch of the coast? Roadside spraying appears as a brown defined boundary, between asphalt of the road and the private property line, where the grasses by the side of the road were sprayed with a chemical herbicide.

The excuses for roadside spraying are that it’s cheaper than mowing, it’s necessary for fire risk reduction and for keeping ditch drainages clear. It’s an effective way to kill invasives. This is what the County Road Service Division tell us, this is what CalTrans explains. One does the county roads, the other does the state routes. County road agencies report information regarding herbicide use to the county agricultural commissioner, while Caltrans reports its use directly to the Department of Pesticide Regulation.  When our group here tries to work with the mindset that is FOR SPRAY, we are met with defense and letters of response that spray “occurs within the limits…”

Truths about roadside spraying are that each herbicide product has different weather conditions under which it may be “safely applied.” Sometimes diesel fuel is mixed with herbicide to reduce drift. Some chemicals in some herbicides are linked to prostate and breast cancer, other products/chemicals are linked to Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Rather than spray by daylight hours, San Mateo County recently performed, over the course of several weeks, its 315 miles of rural roadside spraying between the hours of 2 a.m. to 7 a.m., because the County says they, “…have found these hours to be advantageous, as it generally eliminates conflicts between our slow moving spray truck and vehicular and bicycle traffic. In addition, winds are typically lightest during the overnight hours which is significant since we cannot spray in windy conditions.”

While We Lay Sleeping ::

Products used roadside are:

  • Round-Up
  • Aquamaster
  • Milestone
  • Garlon

You can read about Round-Up and Aquamaster on the Monsanto website and Milestone and Garlon on Dow’s website. Google for the Material Safety Data Sheet for each product, but know that the MSDS only provides what the manufacturer has analyzed.

There are counties/areas that do not allow roadside spray:

  • Thurston County, Washington
  • Lane County, Oregon
  • Humboldt County, California
  • unincorporated areas of Mendocino County, California
  • NOAA allows no herbicide of any concentration on the Russian River when the salmon are spawning.
  • Marin Municipal Water District does not allow herbicides to be sprayed in their watersheds.

Maybe more, my list is still being added to.

Here in San Mateo County, CalTrans District 4 mowed Highway 1 just south of Half Moon Bay.   Why the selectivity of roadside mowing south of Half Moon Bay versus roadside spraying in Big Sur?  The mowed roadside here is an agricultural corridor with Brussels sprouts and artichokes growing on the other side of the fence.  The sprayed roadside in Big Sur is a transportation corridor along which commuters and tourists traverse.  People stop roadside all-along the coast to access viewpoints.

Know When To Walk Away::

The Road Services Division of San Mateo County has an agreement with Pescadero to not spray at all within the Pescadero Watershed. Mowing is provided once a year. Grass grows roadside. No fires have been reported when cars pull over. Site distance is clear along the curves of the road. Pampas grass is excavated by hand or smothered with black garbage bags. Some residents mow the roadside along their property line.

582 petition signatures in the La Honda/San Gregorio Creek Watershed asked the county to not spray, but that was violated this year, after a 2 year observance. At minimum, this agreement in this watershed asked the County, that if they ever feel spraying is mandatory, then they must notify the public one week before, the day of, and for one week after, by posting the sawhorse signs along the roadway where cyclists, horseriders, walkers and drivers would see the signs and receive notification. The worst is that the public is not informed, doesn’t witness the herbicidal spray occur and then walks their dog that evening in the fresh spray. The County did not put up these signs this year when they sprayed without notice in January.

Round-up and other herbicide products have not been tested by the EPA to discover what, if any, harmful environmental affects occur.  There have been no tests completed to ensure that herbicides do not also kill bugs, earthworms, spiders, water plants, amphibians and fishes once the product flows into the watershed through culverts and drainpipes that drain the roadside. Many environmental groups and local watershed groups have filed letters with the intent to sue, or have filed suit against the EPA, to demand that the EPA studies the effects of herbicide products on the environment.

Herbicides along the Roadsides ::

Gardeners at my property recently used Round-Up on the gravel walkways where weeds were popping up in abundance. Where spray occurred all the earthworms died, along with the weeds.

Solutions to the Solution ::

The irony in CalTrans’ roadside spraying activity is that their website boasts a Native Vegetation program as part of their Roadside Toolbox.

The irony is in the first paragraph, “Ongoing research has shown that certain species of native plants can function in the harsh environment of the roadside and over time when conditions are favorable to the native vegetation can out-compete weeds and annual grasses which require extensive maintenance to manage.”

Related, CalTrans has a Stormwater Run-off study site.  “For this study, fish will be used as laboratory models to see how herbicides function in fish. Several chemicals contained in herbicides can have negative effects on fish reproduction by interrupting normal hormone function (endocrine disrupters). Some endocrine disrupters mimic female hormones while others block the activity of these female hormones. These are relatively recent discoveries.”

Groups that can/should help:
Californians for Alternatives to Toxics
Local watershed groups
Department of Fish & Game
County Agricultural Commissioner
County Supervisors (depends)
Pesticide Action Network
State Water Resources Control Board

As wonderful and helpful as CalTrans is to keep our roads clear and functioning, CalTrans does some wacky roadside management, beyond the roadside herbicide spraying, like allowing Toyota to landscape roadside areas with giant flower beds designed as roadside murals, in Marin, and in San Jose.

Perhaps it’s best to have CalTrans concentrate on, “We’re here to get you there,” and it’s time for communities, counties, or set statewide policy, to address safe practice of roadside vegetation management. The only trick here is, your neighbor could still spray herbicides about his property.

We’re trying to get San Mateo County Road Services Division and CalTrans to see a chemical-free coastside rural area.  The County’s Road Services Division tells us it costs $189,000 a year to spray the 315 miles of unincorporated San Mateo County.  A separate budget exists for the county to mow one time a year.   How about, Keep the $189K to use elsewhere (“repairs” perhaps), and just mow that one time a year?  At home, I’ve asked my gardeners to weed by hand.  They’re not happy with this manual labor either.

Devil's Slide mapMr. Roadshow of the San Jose Mercury News writes about the construction status of Devil’s Slide Tunnel.

“Workers have drilled into and blown away mostly solid rock, which they prefer over soft, crumbling rock because it is easier to blast away neatly. They are tunneling about 15 feet a day, and they are almost two-thirds of the way through the mountain.”

Mr. Roadshow concludes, “When these tunnels are finished at last, we’ll have a lot less to be wary about.”

With regards to no longer driving the drop-down roadbed of the roller coaster ride that Highway 1 currently provides at Devil’s Slide, yes; however, I anticipate traffic to increase north and south along Highway 1 once the tunnels are complete and open.  The coast is somewhat protected from the mass-weekend tourist traffic by the precarious passage of Devil’s Slide.  Once the tunnels open and ease the drive, we will see many more visitors, property values will increase, and the isolation that the community once experienced will vanish, forever.

If you are interested in reading more about this project, visit CalTrans’ District 4 Devil’s Slide Project page.  An excellent chronicle is Eric Rice’s 3-part series on how the project came to be, or purchase Barbara VanderWerf’s book on the history of the route over Montara Mountain.

Magic Bus

Used to be that psychedelic magic buses drove the Coast Highway.  They’ve long disappeared now.   A few are still around, parked long ago under the tree canopy of the redwood and oak forests.  Aging and decaying.  Now dusty, dirty, and grey, their faded swirls of paint across the nose, sides, and top.

I’ve seen one between Briceland and Thorn Junction on the road out to Shelter Cove.  Another was up in La Honda, like an extinct species, for La Honda used to house many of these buses.

But this bus before me, in the photo above, was all green.  A green, mid-size bus.  A driver, a passenger.  Lots of bikes on back.

It’d be nice to have a bus this size, an electric bus one of several, providing bus service all-along the California coast.

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I 💛the Rainbow Tunnel song by @alisonfaithlevy 🌈 heard @makeoutroomsf for @manicdpress @litquake 🤗 San Gregorio and North Bay stinky smoke horizon. Le Trou Normand.

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Days until manuscript completion

Final DraftNovember 30th, 2013
Dot i's and cross t's.