Monday, May 9, 2011

May Weeds and More

We had a nice turn out for the May 7th cleanup. In addition to the "old reliables" there were two Arroyo Vista students and parents, and a couple of other adults, along with two adorable little dogs.



We focused mostly on the central mounds where castor bean seedlings, mustard and other exotics were planning an attack. I would like to say that the weeds are in retreat but, alas, this is a long-term project. We have made amazing progress but it took years to get this way and it will takes years to reverse it.

Park Enemy: castor bean seedlings. Pull if you see them.

Weeds, as many of you know, are just plants growing in places you do not want them to be. Here in California, and throughout much of the world, many plants from far away places have found a good home with few nature enemies and little competition. They are aggressive bullies that force out the native plants, reducing biodiversity and limiting food supplies for native animals. Some, like castor bean, grow so large that they shade out our lovely, delicate native wildflowers. Other weeds, like arundo, suck the water from the ground, forcing out all other plants, and providing poor habitat for most birds. Where these non-native, invasives grow, little else can grow.

In California, hillsides and fields of multi-colored wildflowers once teamed with life and delighted all who saw them. Now mustard colors the slopes a lovely yellow, but unfortunately at the expense of lupines, tidytips, poppies, phacelias, and untold other wonders. When I hike I see the mustard and ripgut everywhere and I wonder whether we will ever win this battle and restore balance and diversity to the land.

Since Friends of the Nature Park started weeding back in spring of 2006 I have thought hard about methods of weed control. I've read books and articles on the subject and spoken with experts. I see progress but wonder what we could do to be more successful with the limited resources we have.

Weed control by our group has only involved pulling. Weeds with no flowers or seeds are pulled and left to dry up in the sun. Weeds with flowers or seeds are bagged and removed. This has the disadvantages of being very labor intensive, difficult once the ground dries up, and it causes a great deal of soil disturbance.

I have been thinking about trying another method: weed whipping the exotics to keep them from going to seed. We would have to visit the park frequently to make sure we never let the weeds reach maturity. We would also have to be very careful to target the weeds, allowing any native seeds to germinate and grow. Timing is critical. We would go after each weed right as it emerges.

Anyone who has been working at the Nature Park knows how difficult and frustrating this work is, but they also know how much progress we have made. We are beginning to see some native that would never had made it if the weeds had been allowed to grow. There has been more miners lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), fiddleneck (Amsinckia), and miniature lupine (Lupinus bicolor). Mugwort (Baccharis salicifolia) is sprouting here and there, and golden currant (Ribes aureum) is appearing all over. Jimson weed (Datura wrightii) is also doing very well. Coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) and southern California walnuts (Juglans californica) are sprouting from seed.

So when those who have not seen where we have come from, what we are up against, and how much progress we have made, comment on the condition of the park, I want them to get educated by coming on down to help out.

The state grass, purple needlegrass (Nassella pulchra) appeared on the mound near the deerweed.

A lovely stand of blue elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) with wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus), golden currant (Ribes aureum), and jimson weed (Datura wrightii).

Blue wildflowers of globe gilia (Gilia capitata) grow with buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), sagebrush (Artemisia californica), and bush sunflower (Encelia california), all coastal sage scrub plants.

Delicate tendrils of wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpa) curl from the stems.

Deerweed (Lotus scoparius) is a native shrub found in areas of disturbance, like our Nature Park.

Jimson weed (Datura wrightii) is another early pioneer plant for areas that have experienced rapid change or disturbance.

Monday, May 2, 2011

City Council to Vote on Recommendation to.....

The golf course extension is once again on the agenda for the next open session of city council, Wednesday, May 4, 2011. I am really trying to get this right but I'm no lawyer and so I am not completely clear on it. The following is a cut/paste of the agenda item and the supplementary info on it in the agenda packet.

May 4, 2011 Agenda Item 12. Consideration to add the property adjacent to the back of the driving range to the golf course lease agreement.

Agenda Packet, Item 12:
May 4, 2011

Consideration to Add the Property Adjacent to the Back of the
Driving Range to the Golf Course Lease Agreement

It is recommended that the City Council:
I. Direct staff as to whether the Council wishes to consider including a portion of the property adjacent to the back of the range to the proposed lease agreement with Donovan Bros. Golf;

2. Direct staff as to whether it wishes to consider an approximate 27 yard extension to the driving range; and

3. Direct staff to return with a lease agreement including exact measurements of a proposed extension, capital improvement items, rent credits and appropriate California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Fiscal Impact

Commission Review and Recommendation
The Arroyo Seco Lease Committee recommended Donovan Bros. Golf to operate the City'S Golf

Formal negotiations with Donovan Bros. Golf began during Closed Session on March 2, 2011 and subsequently during closed session on March 16, 2011. At the March 16, 2011 Closed Session, City Council asked staff to bring the option of extending the driving range to open session. Staff presented a proposed extension of the driving range to the City Council at the April 6, 2011 where a motion to have the City Council consider allowing for a full extension failed. However, City Council directed staff to return to negotiations with Donovan Bros. Golf and propose a less-than-full extension of the driving range, which would leave a reasonable space between the Nature Park and the extended driving range.

During negotiations with Donovan Bros. Golf on April 27, 2011 they were asked if they would be willing to enter into a lease with the City for the operation of the Golf Course if the driving range were to remain at its present length. Donovan Bros responded by saying that they were not willing to lease the golf course without the right to extend the driving range. Donovan feels that the driving range is the amenity that needs the most attention and extending it would make the golf course a more-viable operation. They did say that they would accept an approximate 27 yard extension of the driving range and they were willing to curve the fence, however this would prove more costly.

Should the City Council direct staff to bring back for its consideration a recommendation to allow for an extension of the driving range, staff will work with the Planning Deparhnent to begin the appropriate CEQA process. Furthermore, Staff will also address the pending grant applied for and awarded to North East Trees to expand the nature park into the unimproved area in the back of the driving range.

Legal Review
The City Attorney has reviewed this report.

Public Notification of Agenda Item
The public was made aware that this item was to be considered this evening by virtue of its inclusion on the legally publicly noticed agenda, posting of the same agenda and reports on the City's website and/or notice in the South Pasadena Review and/or the Pasadena Star-News.
As I read this, Donovan Bros. is not interested in leasing the golf course without being able to extend the driving range. The compromise number is 27 yards, as opposed to the original 35 yard extension. It is not clear to me exactly where either of these lines would be. My question to Donovan Brothers is, if the extension of the driving range is so important to the success of the entire golf course facility, are you willing to take on some of the financial risk?

I also received a couple of emails from individuals who believe that the golf course extension can not be included in the proposed lease until the environmental assessment is done.

I stand firm on not wanting any extension of the golf course driving range because of:
1. Financial risk for the city in the form of rent credits for "improvements" and incentive to make improvements. (Isn't increased business enough incentive? What other South Pasadena business is given rent credits, tax credits, or whatever to make business improvements?)

2. The land is better used as habitat for the health and well-being of plants, animals and people.

3. This very city council approved plans by a vote of 5-0 in 2009 to extend trails from the Nature Park into this land. In fact they approved a proposal by North East Trees to take on the project. An "about-face" reduces the city's credibility when it claims that it has an good environmental record. I am concerned that this move will make it harder for the city to get funding for projects for clean water, clean air, and other environmental improvements.

4. Before the land is given to the golf course it should be vetted fully with the public. This means the public is entitled to clear, accurate and complete information on what is at stake, including answers to the following questions:
  1. What will be the exact location of the border and what type of fencing will be used?
  2. How much soil disturbance and grade change is needed to extend the driving range?
  3. If soil is to be removed, how will it be disposed of? If there has been dumping on the site and the soil is contaminated, who will pay for the cleanup?
  4. How much is this project likely to cost and who will pay for it - both now and later? What are the possible cost overruns?
  5. How much is the Environemental Assessment and possible full EIR likely to cost the city? Will Donovan Bros. pay this upfront also? Will they get rent credits to cover the preconstruction costs even if they fail to get final approval for the extension?
  6. How much additional money can we expect the extension to generate and how are these numbers calculated?
  7. How will the trees be protected during construction and during use of the land as a driving range?
  8. How much pesticide- and fertilizer-contaminated runoff can be expected to enter the Arroyo Seco from the turf grass?
  9. How much additional water will be required to maintain the area and where will this water come from?
  10. Other water issues: Is the golf course currently irrigated with water drawn from the Arroyo Seco? Is this legal? If it has been irrigated with Arroyo Seco water, will it be allowed to continue to use this water and even increase this usage? Is it safe to use water drawn from the Arroyo Seco on turf that children and adults play on?
  11. Is it legal to include this provision (extension of the golf course driving range) in the lease before environmental review?
  12. Why should the lease include this provision before these questions are answered?
Let your city council know where you stand on this! I hope to see you at the city council meeting on Wednesday, May 4, 2011, 7:30 PM.