Urban Warriors

Here along the northern reach of the gorgeous Monterey Bay, we usually don’t think of ourselves as living in an urban environment. But we do.

Urban Density in Coastal Santa Cruz County (click on the map for links)

The density (people/square mile) of our coastal region is similar to San Jose and San Diego. Why is that so? Because #1, our coastal shelf region is relatively flat; #2, the rail line, built in the 1880’s, concentrated growth nearby; #3, early development of vacation homes, christian church camps, apartments, & mobile home parks established small lots  along the coast; & #4, the post-WWII Westward Boom brought loads of people from the central California Valley & US Midwest who sought to retire or start anew in our gloriously benign climate. Our elected officials at the time sought to accommodate this growth where these folks wanted to live (they weren’t stupid): along the coast, in the fruitful Pajaro Valley, & along the San Lorenzo River valley in the redwoods.

And, because most of us resist the notion that we live in an urban area (still…really?…with our University & our well-off Silicon Valley dot.commers & housing displacement with its resulting trauma & traffic, etc??), it’s a greater struggle than you might think to get us to embrace common urban amenities.

Such as light rail or trams or streetcars along our already publicly owned Coast Rail Line.

Which parallels horribly congested Highway 1. Which would OBVIOUSLY provide a comfortable & congenial alternative to sitting alone in our cars for thousands of local residents & employees, commuters & visitors, etc. It would make a HUGE difference if even we only used it one day/week (which = 20% reduction in car traffic).

Here’s a letter that I sent to our Regional Transportation Commission about a study they’re wrapping up that looks at options along our urban coastal corridor. This study – the Unified Corridor Investment Study – is a good analysis and imo, the direction it offers us is clear. If your a numbers type, here’s a concise, multi-year cost/benefit analysis prepared by my brilliant friend Bruce Sawhill.

Of course, nothing worth doing is ever easy. Recently, I’ve been part of a small but amazing team of urban warriors [“someone with strong political ideas who fights for their cause in a town or city”] working to defeat a devious initiative measure related to the rail line in our tiny coastal City of Capitola. The proponents of this measure, who are aligned with Santa Cruz County Greenway [such a nice name, too bad it’s associated more with bucks than bushes] – these folks want to tear out the Santa Cruz coast rail line & pave it over exclusively for a bicycle (& electric/self-driving-whatevers) freeway. They’re test-driving this concept with an initiative election focussed on picking-off this small, walkable, compact town with its 10K population – less than 8% of the 130,000+ greater coastal urban area population pictured above.

Greenway’s slogan is “Save Our Trestle”… huh?! This train trestle, which has traversed Soquel Creek for the past 130 years & reconstructed at least four times, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Their other slogan is “Trail Now”, truly a misnomer: pulling out the tracks on an active, federally-regulated rail line isn’t like making a couple of trips to the dentist for a new smile (if you can afford it).

Like many long time Santa Cruz County residents, I’ve lived various places in the county over the years. During my second year at UCSC, home was a cottage on Riverview Avenue near that trestle. I and three college roommates had initially rented half of a tiny Lawn Way cottage behind the Six Sisters along the Capitola Esplanade, but our landlady, who owned one of the Sisters, evicted us when she apparently observed too many young men visiting those sunny young women from her back door vantage point. Capitola was way out in the boonies in 1969: four mornings a week, the four of us would zip along the freeway up to campus, no traffic at all. I especially loved the creekside path right outside our front door with its easy stroll to the beach & wharf. The freight train to & from the Davenport cement plant went by twice a day. We barely noticed it.

It’s been (mostly) fun spending time in Capitola again. Otherwise I rarely get over there due to too many darn cars and not enough sidewalk space. It’s really beyond me why some Capitola folks resist making it easier for people to get to & from & around in their sweet but car-congested little town. I know people don’t like change, but sign up for any yoga or meditation or anthropology class & the first thing that’s drummed in is that life is change. Denial is always an option, for sure, but look where that’s gotten us.

So, to all you urban warriors out there fighting for the greater good: be well & go forth!

I hope you noticed that the map is pumpkin-colored! Have a soulful Halloween & Dia de Los Muertos.

The final vote tally (12/4/18) is 2526-2320 in favor of Yes. We lost this round. 


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Gulches, Greenbelts (…& a Little Bit of Greed)

Hi Everyone!

I know – it’s been a long blogging lapse for this primate. I have a good excuse…well, an excuse, in any event. Over the past two years, I’ve been working on researching why Live Oak, the unincorporated urban community between Santa Cruz and Capitola (where I and about 25,000+ others live), never annexed to our adjacent city of Santa Cruz, or Capitola, nor was it incorporated as its own city. And also, why the road across the gulch – Arana Gulch, which separates Live Oak from Santa Cruz – was never built. This all came down back in the 1960’s & 70’s.

I’ve tried to explain it all in a new piece written for our local Santa Cruz County history journal. Well, not really ‘all’…I had to shorten my original draft by nearly half, but, (one hopes), it’s the essential half of the story that survived. The article, Between the Gulches: The Twin Fates of Live Oak Cityhood and the Broadway-Brommer Road, sits in the good company of other stories of that era in this new History Journal Number 9, LandScapes: Activism That Shaped Santa Cruz County 1955-2005published by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH, 2018, available at the Santa Cruz MAH, Bookshop Santa Cruz, & Amazon).

Here’s the link to my Live Oak history article.

As a long time member of the MAH board of trustees, three years ago I was appointed as the board representative on the MAH History Publications Committee (…I think they didn’t know where else to put me, loud-mouthed old lady that I am, plus I was already committed to this article – no clue about what it would mean!).  My tenure coincided with the three years of creating, editing and publishing this journal. The people who do this work – the staff & volunteers, authors & editors – are incredibly thoughtful, amazingly diligent, and extremely capable professionals, & our community at large is very fortunate to be the beneficiary of their ongoing, labor-intensive local history efforts.

Writing this history article was very hard work…an act of love, really. In my case, the love is for this particular patch of earth I live & walk on. While my article tries to answer still-pertinent questions, it’s mostly an ode to geography & how fundamental it is to human evolution. The grounding of our communities.

My long-time friend Elizabeth Schilling was the editor and primary inspiration for this history journal. Joan Martin, long-time friend of Sharon Cadwallader of the Whole Earth Restaurant, was my gently assertive & wonderful editor. Marla Novo was our concert master and is the fabulous Archives & Collections Catalyst at the MAH.  **!!YAY!!**  Thank you so much, Elizabeth, Joan, Marla, Frank Perry, Lisa Robinson, Carey Casey, & all the rest!!

I am in awe of historians everywhere.  Viva Los Esteros!   

(here’s the bibliography, if you’re so inclined.)

photo credit: Frank Perry



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The Braided Stream

I just love this John Hawkes post.

Here’s to the braided stream of evolution – human and otherwise.

from photo at the San Francisco Exploratorium.

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Seven Shades of Suicide

Sometimes I wish we were like people of far northern hemisphere cultures who have (or had, legendarily) many words for ice & snow: we could benefit by having a broader range of words for one of the most laden S-words we know…the early death of someone by their own choice.

Too-early for those of us left behind – the suicide survivors. Untimely – really, there’s never a good time to die this way. Unexpected (most of the time). Unbelievable, to those of us who don’t have serious suicidal thoughts.

We often feel abandoned, angry & anguished, overwhelmed, distraught & distressed. We’re left with the unimaginable task of picking up the pieces, & facing the exhausting Ten Thousand What Ifs. Intense grief can persist for a long time – way beyond what’s considered ‘normal’.

For the living, so many things feel unfinished, unsaid, regretted, undone (…although let’s let go right away of the notion that all will be finished, said, & wrapped up without regret even in the ‘well-lived’ life: there will always be things left undone).

The father of our grandson died of suicide last fall. Our daughter K died of suicide in 2004.

Suicide is the 10th most common cause of death in the U.S.; over 60% of gun deaths are suicides. Its association with mental illness is strong (up to 90%), but correlation statistics are weak due to our persistent cultural avoidance of rational approaches to mental illness. So, mental illness is a likely factor when someone dies by suicide (with the exception of old age suicide, see below), but we may or may not have much understanding of the role mental illness played in the person’s life &/or death. Which can multiply the complication factor even more. & which makes it even more difficult for those left behind.

It’s no wonder then, with this exponentially complicated death, that many human religions developed moral codes condemning & silencing talk about suicide. The person who killed themselves was labeled ‘bad’ – sometimes not even worthy of a burial – which shamed & blamed the family of survivors. Also, pervasive (& legitimate) worry about ‘suicide contagion‘ continues to limit healthy conversation.

Humans have learned that it’s best not to talk about it.

Except that, for survivors, it wasn’t. It isn’t. Not-talking actually increased the pain of being a survivor by several magnitudes, but no one knew because no one was talking.

Maybe having better words can help us talk about it.

What’s most important to the living after someone dies is: 1 – our relationship with them, & 2 – knowing how they died. How we grieve & eventually reach acceptance of a death is a complex combination of the two.

Our experience of the suicide of another is deeply affected by our relationship with that person. Those relationships need more descriptive words – to help us, the living, figure out less isolating ways to survive this common kind of death:

Suicide of one’s parent. Suicide of one’s child. Suicide of one’s sibling. Suicide of one’s spouse. Suicide of an ex-spouse. Suicide of a close relative. Suicide of a friend. 

Friend of a suicide survivor.

(Old-age & terminal illness suicide is different altogether. Death is imminent, & the elder or ill person is choosing the time of their death at what they know is the end of life. This is another, & will be increasingly common, death that needs a more descriptive word than the current, commonly used term assisted suicide.)

Other kinds of suicide need better words too: camouflaged suicide, famous person suicide, copycat suicide, militarized suicide, cultural suicide…no doubt there are many more.

Human primates have learned to survive the death of another – it’s one of the fundamental reasons for religion. Now, we need to use our (essential-but-really-only-a-few-thousand-years-old) knowledge of the real world [a.k.a science] to build a better path for those of us who must survive our varied relationships with this particularly complicated death.

We have to talk about it.


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In Love with a Seabus

I fell in love in Vancouver this past summer.

I still pine for my sweetheart’s comfortably utilitarian seat, her easy camaraderie, her affordability, her expansive harbor vistas, her pleasant accessibility, & her dependable, 15-minute embrace nearly all hours of the day.

I fell madly in love with the SeaBus.  

Vancouver’s transit system is fantastic. Many world cities have robust transit systems, & their intentional (&/or fortuitous) combination of transit, walkability, & mixed land use makes them work. It’s why we want to visit these wonderful cities again & again.

Some of the great things about transit-oriented (aka Livable) cities is that they allow for casual & (usually) positive social interactions among diverse human beings of various socio-economic groups, are healthier because people walk more, produce fewer greenhouse gasses (GHG) because people can get places without driving, promote a sense of community, provide daily opportunities for downtime & relaxation, reduce traffic stress, support mixed-use & higher density neighborhoods (thereby reducing urban sprawl), reduce isolation, & are safer overall than car-oriented cities.

Consistent with its Greenest City Action Plan, the SeaBus is a key aspect of Vancouver’s regional transit system. It provides daily ferry service between Vancouver & populous North Vancouver using two huge catamarans (capacity 400) which traverse the main harbor, one departing from each side at the same time. I’d booked a hotel in North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay over the 4th of July (which is too damn noisy in our central CA coast neighborhood) & was worried (who me, worry?) it was too far from the action; but yay! – there was plenty of action for a transport wonk like me during those daily glides across the water. Not to mention immediately adjacent connections with the SkyTrain, Spirit Trail, Waterfront Trail, Seawall Trail, & ubiquitous buses.

Why does transit in Vancouver work so well? Well, it’s a lot faster than driving, & that’s intentional. Here’s the hierarchy of transport modes from their Transportation 2040 plan: 1. Walking, 2. Cycling, 3. Transit, 4. Taxi/Commercial Transit/Shared Vehicles, 5. Private Automobiles.

Ahh – be still my heart! Walking is the #1 priority transportation mode in Vancouver. trail signWalking & transit play extremely well together (while bicycles, it seems to me, tend to prefer riding with their own kind). Please note the priority assigned to private automobiles: they’re even removing a driving lane from the historic downtown Burrard St. Bridge in order to improve pedestrian & bicycle access. ‘Shared vehicles’ etc come in at #4 – definitely part of the future but still with the downsides of contributing to congestion & inefficient land uses.

Portland (my second infatuation of the summer) is another North American west coast city with thoughtful urban planning. Similar to Vancouver, they’ve intentionally made decisions about land use & transportation in concert, thereby increasing likelihood of playing-well-together. We’re not very good at this in most parts of the automobile-oriented U.S., &, frighteningly, most of us have yet to answer nature’s urgent call about global warming.

Yeah I know, the human brain isn’t yet wired to spend our daily lives mindful of perceived day-after-tomorrow catastrophes. But as Albert Einstein famously said (paraphrased): “The problems of today cannot not be solved with yesterday’s way of thinking.’ We may wish & hope that doing familiar things more & better will make a difference, but if you have a habit of grounding wishes in science (& omg, we gotta fight for that harder now), it’s pretty clear we need to be forging new paths into the future.

Well. That zippy SeaBus is definitely part of their future path in Vancouver. Portland’s streetcars & MAX are the foundation of their sustainable city plan, & the funkycool trams in neighboring San Francisco are a (why-don’t-we-copy-that-here??) twist on that City’s robust transit system – & soon, even more ferry’s across the Bay!

I imagine we’ll all get there one of these days – it’s just a matter of .. survival.




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sometimes you’re the bug

This is dedicated to poor Melania – too bad you hitched your lovely planet to a pathetically sad & narcissistic star.

I totally love that Michelle Obama is your inspiration though.

Thank you Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler for reminding us of our life as, sometimes,

The Bug

Well it’s a strange old game – you learn it slow
One step forward and it’s back to go
You’re standing on the throttle
You’re standing on the breaks
In the groove ’til you make a mistake

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re a fool in love
Sometimes you’re the louisville slugger
Sometimes you’re the ball
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re going to lose it all

You gotta know happy – you gotta know glad
Because you’re gonna know lonely
And you’re gonna know bad
When you’re rippin’ and a ridin’
And you’re coming on strong
You start slippin’ and slidin’
And it all goes wrong because

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re a fool in love
Sometimes you’re the louisville slugger baby
Sometimes you’re the ball
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re going to lose it all

One day you got the glory
One day you got none
One day you’re a diamond
And then you’re a stone
Everything can change
In the blink of an eye
So let the good times roll
Before we say goodbye, because

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re a fool in love
Sometimes you’re the louisville slugger baby
Sometimes you’re the ball
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re going to lose it all.

Mark Knopfler, 1991

(This song…& walking…etc…saved my life a decade ago. love.)

&, of course, go Hillary!! – it’s your time to be the louisville slugger.


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The Safety Hype of Driverless Cars

Have I already mentioned somewhere that we humans love our mobility? In addition to having a key role in human primate evolution, the mobility goal of ‘more, better, faster’ was a big theme during my two decades at the Regional Transportation Commission. Many of us live for the fantasy of more earthly space for our own preferred mobility mode.

But earthly space is limited, and worsening automobile traffic is stressful for humans nearly everywhere in the urbanized world. The lure of driverless cars is that they offer a ‘solution’ to this problem (‘look ma, no hands!’) and, they’re supposedly safer to boot.

Tesla revealed yesterday (June 30, 2016) on their blog that one of their cars, while being driven in ‘auto-pilot’ mode, caused the death of its driver in an accident with a truck. This was disclosed nearly two months after the fatal accident occurred on May 7, 2016. The nature of the accident was apparently only revealed because an federal investigation into the crash has been initiated.

The Tesla blogpost informs us that the auto-pilot mode is still in ‘public beta phase’ & that the driver should have been ‘prepared to take over at any time’. Obvious questions arise: Isn’t the attraction of self-driving cars (SDCs) that we’d no longer have to pay attention to the road? Why is a car still in beta allowed to be driven on public roads? Who’s overseeing the development of self-driving cars?

What’s the evidence behind the safety hype of driverless cars, anyway?

Unfortunately, as we’re all going to better understand as time goes on, the driverless car safety hype is just that: hype…of the kind increasingly being doled out by Big Tech.

Worried about accidents between pedestrians & self-driving cars? Here’s Google’s patent to address the problem (granted 5/17/16): “The front of the vehicle may be coated with a specialized adhesive that adheres to a pedestrian and thus holds the pedestrian on the vehicle in the unfortunate event that…the vehicle comes into contact with the pedestrian.”

Well, I’m not buying it.

And neither are experts in automation & transportation safety. In her testimony before the March 15 Senate Commerce Committee hearing about issues related to self-driving car regulation, Mary Cummings, PhD, Director of Robotics and the Humans & Autonomy Laboratory at Duke University, highlighted the lack of transparency regarding safety testing methodologies & verifiable results by Google and other SDC developers:

“In my opinion, the self-driving car community is woefully deficient in its testing and evaluation programs,” Cummings said. She compares what should be a standard federal process for certifying the safety of self-driving cars with similar aircraft software certification, where ‘evidence-based tests and evaluations’ conducted in a ‘principled and rigorous manner’ are made public in order to enable expert peer review and validation.

This is not what’s occurring now. In fact, Google et al are pressing for a slew of exceptions & permission to fast-track the normal federal transportation safety rule-making process, complaining that state & federal rules are impeding the deployment of driverless cars. In response to industry pressure, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx promised in January that preliminary guidelines for self-driving cars will be available this month.

But what’s the hurry?

Well, it’s just that, as noted by the Guardian last year: “…never shy of hubris, Google wants not only to reinvent the car but to replace the whole idea of driving…’We want to fundamentally change the world with this’, Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, likes to say.” Hmmm – we actually do need to change our dreary & dirty driving habits, but are driverless cars really going to be our salvation?

There is a long list of other, non-safety issues with self-driving cars: privacy (Cummings calls the SDC ‘one, big data-gathering machine’), hacking, computer failure (how much time daily do you already spend dealing w computer problems?), questions about legal liability, reduced human driving skills due to automation, susceptibility of humans to distraction (uh yeah, that scary close call in cruise-control mode, not to mention the iPhone-on-the-lap syndrome), increased risk tolerance, increased social isolation, worsening congestion, challenges of both SDC & non-SDC vehicles on roads & highways, health risks of physical inactivity, more inefficient land uses & increasing urban sprawl, vehicle interactions with bicyclists & pedestrians – just to mention a few. Many of these concerns are present already with human drivers & non-automated vehicles; adding SDCs to the mix will exponentially increase the complexity of our driving & urban environment.

I also know, as the 19th century saying goes, that this train has already left the station. As dismayed as some of us (who probably have a bad habit of imagining the future) are regarding where life on earth appears to be headed, there’s no doubt that (barring a planet-wide calamity, which is, of course, entirely possible on many fronts,) self-driving cars are going to be a part of urban life in the 21st century.

Let’s hope, though, that this Tesla tragedy will provide a much-needed pause to Big Tech’s relentless driverless car juggernaut.


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