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From Berkeley Daily Planet - Green Neighbors: Showdown at Baxter Creek, Part Two


Green Neighbors: Showdown at Baxter Creek, Part Two

By Ron Sullivan

Wednesday February 25, 2009

The meeting at Richmond’s Baxter Creek convened at the scene of the crime.

In our last chapter, Lisa Owens Viani discovered that her formerly thriving restoration site, a stretch of Baxter Creek running through Richmond’s Booker T. Anderson Park, had been devastated by a city maintenance crew who’d clear-cut everything below about five feet: a carefully planned and functioning understory of native plants providing shelter and sustenance to wild birds and other parts of our lifeweb, and slowing and filtering rain runoff into the creek.

An experienced rattler of official cages, Owens Viani had persuaded many concerned groups to send representatives. These included people from the California Department of Fish and Game, the Bay Area Regional Water Quality Board, the California Coastal Conservancy, the Urban Creeks Council; Richmond’s Department of Public Works and its Parks Department, and City Councilmember Tom Butt, Mayor Gale McLaughlin, City Manager Bill Lindsay, and several of the park’s neighbors.

The meeting happened outdoors, as the weather was fair. No big meeting table and hard plastic chairs, but a circle of people in a parking lot. I wondered what passers-by must be thinking about this big ring of adults—one in uniform, sidearm and all—standing around taking turns in such orderly fashion, nobody quite playing dodgeball. It was all much more amiable than one might expect.

The City of Richmond’s various reps were variously indignant and/or apologetic about the “brush” clearing. Tom Butt in particular carried the figurative ball for Nature, remarking that the accumulation of dumped shopping carts, TVs, mattresses, and other junk into the creek wouldn’t be solved by making dumping easier by clearing the way.

It was noted and acknowledged by all that the plants that had been whacked weren’t just weeds, but native, essential parts of a functional ecosystem that worked toward local compliance with legal water-quality requirements. In fact, the Water Board (which should change its name already) is having a word with the city about the matter.

People agreed quickly on the necessity of a written maintenance plan for every project like this, to which every agency involved must agree. Smart landscape architects we know have been incorporating such plans into their contracts; having everything in writing makes continuity possible when owners and managers switch maintenance companies, or when staff turnover inevitably happens.

Everyone also spoke of the need for community involvement. That’s as factual as gravity, and more complicated.

There had been community involvement in the original restoration work, especially from local schools, and more all along, with volunteer work, workdays, plantings, classes. On that dismaying January visit we’d met a friendly young woman who approached us to see what we were up to in her park, where she’d worked and studied last year. Maybe there was some disconnect between groups such as hers and the local neighborhood watch, or disagreement about what makes a desirable park. Some want natural growth; some push for surveillance-ready spaces everywhere.

Butt spoke to that: “You’re not going to change everyone’s thinking on this. Some people object to street trees because they have ‘messy’ leaves that fall sometimes. It’s like people who don’t believe in global warming—or a round Earth. Some people won’t get it.”

How can this happen? How can normal adults be so unaware of daily natural processes?

Hypotheses next week.

“The Richmond Chainsaw Massacre, Part One,” was published last week, in the Feb. 19 issue of the Planet.