Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Yes, trees communicate

          The simple profundity of trees: two new books 
Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia; photograph by Beth Moon from her book Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time (2014). A collection of her color photographs, Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees, has just been published by Abbeville.

From the New York Review of Books

The Long, Long Life of Trees 
by Fiona Stafford
Yale University Press, 287 pp., $30.00

                      By Thomas Packenham 

   In 1664 John Evelyn, diarist, country gentleman, and commissioner at the court of Charles II, produced his monumental book on trees: Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees. It was a seventeenth-century best seller. Evelyn was a true son of the Renaissance. His book is learned and witty and practical and passionate all by turns. No later book on trees has ever had such an impact on the British public. His message? A very modern one. We are in desperate need of trees for all kinds of reasons. Get out there with your spade and plant one today.
   Despite the catastrophes that crippled London in the next two years—the great plague and the great fire—Evelyn lived to see the book reprinted four times. A century later it was reissued with elegant copperplate illustrations and an exhaustive commentary to bring it up to date. Later editions of the book (renamed Silva) have followed, and many authors have tried to write in the spirit of Evelyn. But somehow Sylva has always remained head and shoulders above its successors. That is, until the present. The two new books on trees under review are both outstanding. In different ways their authors share many of Evelyn’s best qualities.
   Fiona Stafford’s The Long, Long Life of Trees treads closest in the footsteps of Sylva. Evelyn, it is true, was more adventurous in his choice of trees to be described in detail. He covers an astonishing range: a tally of thirty-one genera, which include newly introduced trees from the American East Coast, like red oaks and Weymouth pines, as well as trees that were seen as exotic in England, such as the cedar of Lebanon and the Irish strawberry-tree. Stafford plays safe by choosing a mere seventeen genera, which represent the common trees of gardens and woods and hedgerows throughout Western Europe as well as North America: oaks, sycamores, chestnuts, hawthorns, and so on. But there is nothing humdrum about her descriptions.
    Stafford is professor of English at Oxford University and writes about novels, poetry, art, and the environment. In her own way she is as learned as Evelyn, and she is a gifted writer. What do trees mean for her? She owes this book, she says, to her “sense of wonder” at trees. She admires their physical beauty. She is astonished by their gift for survival. And most of all, perhaps, she is struck by their extensive cultural associations. She reminds us that it’s easy to take trees for granted. But we must do more than merely admire them. We must go out there, she says, echoing Evelyn’s words, taking our spades to plant new saplings for the future.
   If she plants a tree, her first choice, I feel sure, will be an oak. Most sensible people find the common oak of Europe, Quercus robur, quite irresistible. Ever been inside a Royal Oak? Stafford means the British pub, not the famous oak at Boscobel in which the future Charles II hid from the fury of the Roundheads after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Of course one led to the other, and today there are more Royal Oaks in Britain than any other pubs except Crowns and Red Lions.
   In her chapter on oaks, Stafford explores the tangled history of Britain’s infatuation with the species. It long predates the king’s miraculous escape at Boscobel. The oak was a symbol of power and strength from classical times. It was the tree of Zeus, king of the gods. It was the oracular tree at Dodona in Greece, meaning that it could predict the future. Augustus Caesar, ever conscious of his image, faced the Roman public wearing a civic crown of oak leaves. The tree’s “manly” virtues made it a choice as a symbol for any country, like Britain, seeking to impress its neighbors. Effortlessly it became the national tree of Britain, although the claim was not uncontested. (Many patriotic British people would be surprised to learn that twelve other European countries and the US all claim it as their national tree.)
   “Sturdy, stalwart and stubborn,” Stafford writes,
the oak has always been admired for its staying power…. No other tree is so self-possessed, so evidently at one with the world. Unlike the beech, horse chestnut or sycamore, whose branches reach up towards the sky, the solid, craggy trunk of a mature oak spreads out, as if with open arms, to create a vast hemisphere of thick, clotted leaves.
   It is this copious canopy that provides a home for an astonishing number of small insects, birds, animals, lichens, ferns, and fungi. If you look up at those mossy, fern-encrusted branches, you may well find redstarts and robins and wood warblers searching for insects, while woodpeckers and little owls build their nests in hollows in the trunk. A great oak is a world in itself. “This is the King of the Trees,” Stafford writes exultantly, “the head, heart and habitat of an entire civilisation.”
   How long can a great oak survive? Sober estimates are impossible, since the oldest oaks are invariably hollow, and most of the annual rings are therefore missing. Wild estimates (including my own) vary between six hundred and one thousand years. Fortunately, many of the great oaks of Britain were engraved and described by Jacob Strutt for his pioneering set of tree portraits, Sylva Britannica, first published in 1826. (He borrowed half his title from John Evelyn.) As one would expect, the majority of Strutt’s ancient trees—the Yardley oak, the Bull oak, the Cowthorpe oak—have now been blown down or simply crumbled to dust. Others have been reduced, like the Major oak in Sherwood Forest, to the fate of a cripple supported by steel crutches. But a few of the most famous have survived.
   “Majesty” at Fredville in Kent still stands tall, after perhaps five or six hundred years. The Panshanger Oak in Hertfordshire, much admired by Winston Churchill a century ago, still looks good for several more centuries. Even more remarkable is the Bowthorpe Oak in Lincolnshire. Stafford describes a visit she paid to this aged creature. My guess is that it’s at least seven hundred years old. At any rate its trunk was hollow enough in the eighteenth century for smart dinner parties for seventeen people to be given inside its vast interior. Now it’s only the home of a pony and some chickens. But its generous owner allows visitors. Stafford describes the experience: “like stepping from ordinary domesticity into the presence of some immortal being—ancient, wrinkled, yet oddly welcoming.”
   One of her best chapters deals with the common and much-abused sycamore of Europe. She quotes a comment by William Blake: “Not everybody sees alike: a Tree that moves some to Tears of Joy to other Eyes is just a green thing in the way.” Did Blake have the sycamore in mind when he wrote those lines? Certainly the tree gets a bad press because of its habit of dropping sticky leaves on pavements and railway lines, causing delays and accidents. In fact the “honeydew” that coats the leaves is a mixture of rich, sugary sap and the excrement of aphids that feed on it. And the list of the sycamore’s so-called vices doesn’t end there. It is the tree, as Stafford says, of excess:
For many, the sycamore is too generous a tree altogether. It disturbs people’s sense of proportion and even seems to uncover lurking puritanical anxieties about excess. It is the tree of profusion: too much sap, too many leaves. Too many sycamores, in fact.
   Its propeller-like seeds are a torment to gardeners, infesting lawns and rose beds alike. And worst of all, it is a “tree weed,” an invasive alien, a vicious intruder from Europe.
   Stafford looks coolly at these charges, and makes a powerful case for the defense. She points out that sycamores have flourished in Britain for hundreds of years and, despite their pushy reputation, their numbers there have not increased in the last half-century. In fact they fit neatly into the ecosystem, deftly regulating their own numbers and occupying the spaces where most other trees do not flourish. They are generous in the best sense. They add elegance and comfort to the bleak Yorkshire coastline or the rocky islands of Scotland. As for the claim that they are invasive aliens, Stafford points to the thirteenth-century shrine of Saint Frideswide in the cathedral at Oxford, in which five-lobed sycamore leaves are carved on the boss above her tomb. It would appear that by the Middle Ages the sycamore leaf was already a Christian symbol, perhaps representing the stigmata or Five Holy Wounds. And judging from modern research on fossilized pollen, it is possible that this much-maligned tree is a native after all.
 ‘The Amorous Baobabs,’ near Morondava, Madagascar; photograph by Thomas Pakenham from his book Remarkable Trees of the World (2002)

   Poets, Stafford continues, are quicker than suburban gardeners to appreciate the virtues of the sycamore. She cites John Clare’s lyrical account of the “splendid sycamore” with its mountain of sunny green foliage. Its sticky leaves, he wrote, were a great gift to the world. We should listen to the “merry bees, that feed with eager wing,/On the broad leaves, glaz’d over with honey-dew.” Stafford also reminds us that Shelley’s bittersweet poem “Ode to the West Wind” was based on his experiences in the autumn of 1819, wandering in the sycamore woods around Florence. Shelley was in a wretched state; two of his young children had just died. That autumn it was the fall of the sycamore leaves that caught his imagination. The dead leaves were driven by the west wind—“Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,/Pestilence-stricken multitudes.” But the trees, he hoped, would “quicken a new birth.” For the west wind was propelling the “winged seeds” as well as the dead leaves. The dead leaves promised new life. “If Winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

   For her chapters on the European ash and horse chestnut, Stafford strikes a more somber note. Both are European species of a worldwide genus: respectively Fraxinus excelsior and Aesculus hippocastanum. Both are now threatened by a pair of lethal diseases from the East. In fact many of the trees commonest in Europe and North America are now facing an apocalyptic threat from Asia. Fifty years ago we lost most of our elm trees to a fungus from China, spread by a beetle laying infected eggs under the bark. (“Dutch” elm disease was a misnomer. The original enemy was Asian, not European.) Today these new enemies—sudden oak death, acute oak decline, beech wilt, sweet chestnut blight, and so on—are decimating our parks and forests.
   The most immediate problem in Europe is Chalara, a fungus that leads to dieback—the death of leaves and branches—in ash trees, believed to have been introduced in the 1990s from Asia on infected crates or pallet wood. In Denmark 80 percent of the European ashes have already died. The plague has now reached Britain and Ireland and is expected to be just as devastating there. Stafford offers little hope for dealing with Chalara. It may be already too late to stop. Control measures should have been taken when the disease was first identified in Eastern Europe. Even if the measures now being taken succeed, there is an even more pitiless Asian enemy behind Chalara—the emerald ash borer, Agrilus planipennis, a bright green Chinese beetle that has already devastated many forests in North America. So Stafford leaves us with the bleak conclusion that there is probably no way out. One way or the other, we shall lose almost all our ash trees and so many of our “familiar wood-lined roads, green parks and sheltered towns will be left, bereft and bare.”
   As for the horse chestnut, half the species in Europe are already believed to be infected by bleeding canker, a bacterial infection that causes a sticky liquid to be secreted from blemishes on the bark, eventually killing the entire tree. Stafford takes a surprisingly relaxed view of this new threat. She says that “bleeding canker may…be a health scare rather than a death sentence. Faking its own death seems just the sort of trick that might engage the horse chestnut….” I wish I could believe her. In Ireland, where I live, many of the finest specimens in parks and gardens have already succumbed. Every year we lose two or three of the largest and most majestic trees in the parkland. There is no defense, no treatment.
   But the good news, which should be of some comfort to Stafford, is that there is after all a way to mitigate these disasters. If the aim is to recreate the lost trees, you must make sure to choose a Chinese or Japanese or Indian species of the same genus. This means planting Himalayan horse chestnut, Chinese elm, Chinese ash, Japanese oak, and so on. For these Asian species evolved millions of years ago side by side with the Asian diseases. Today these species are immune—according to the experts I have talked to. I hope they are right. All will be clear, at any rate, within the next one hundred years.
   Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees breaks entirely new ground, and John Evelyn would have been delighted with his discoveries. Wohlleben is a professional forester who works for the local community in Hümmel, a small village in the Eifel Mountains of western Germany. For years he managed the forest of beech, oak, pines, and spruce on conventional lines, felling the trees for their timber when they were mature and extracting the logs with heavy machinery. As he puts it, he “knew about as much about the hidden life of trees as a butcher knows about the emotional life of animals.” But gradually he came to look at the trees in a new light. Visitors, he noticed, would admire the trees he dismissed as of little commercial value: the more crooked and gnarled the trees, the better they liked them. His own love of nature, a relic of childhood, was reignited. He began to notice bizarre root shapes and strange patterns of growth. He writes, “Suddenly, I was aware of countless wonders I could hardly explain even to myself.”
   Meanwhile new generations of scientists were exploring his local forest, including a team from Aachen University. And both there and in the university in Vancouver, five thousand miles away in British Columbia, discoveries were made that astounded Wohlleben.
   What both teams discovered was nothing less than a vast underground network, called a mycorrhiza, in which fungi connect trees of different species by passing chemical and electrical signals among the trees’ roots. It was an arboreal Internet—christened the “wood wide web.” Trees could actually communicate by exchanging carbon through their roots. The exchange offered mutual support. Carbon is the food of trees, created by photosynthesis, using the leaves as solar panels. Sometimes one tree would act as mother to its neighbors, giving them more carbon than it received in return. Later the debt would be repaid as the roles were reversed.
   As the subtleties of this underground network were explored, it became clear to scientists that trees not only benefited by mutual exchange of food. They exchanged vital information, warning their neighbors (and children) of threats and advising them of opportunities to seize. For example, if a tree’s leaves are bitten by a caterpillar, it will send a message though the mycorrhiza, prompting other trees in the network to release chemicals that repel caterpillars.
   For Wohlleben these discoveries confirmed what he had come to recognize himself: that, in their own way, trees had feelings, that they knew how to communicate with one another, and that the strong were able to assist the weak. But how to reconcile this with his job as a butcher of trees? Fortunately his employers, the village of Hümmel, were high-minded romantics like himself. They agreed to forgo the income from sales of timber and create a series of tree reserves in the forest. All timber machinery was banned. When a tree had to be felled, only horses were employed in removing the logs. The forest flourished under these generous new rules, and tourists flocked to explore its wonders. Perhaps the high-minded villagers of Hümmel had made a good commercial bargain.
   Today Wohlleben continues to work in the forest. Every day, he says, he makes new discoveries: learning more about how trees live and die, how they live their lives in harmony with their neighbors and with all the rest of the ecosystem. Of course he is now more of a guardian than a manager. He organizes survival tours and has arranged for part of the forest to be set aside as a natural graveyard. And his writings have now made him deservedly famous. The German edition of the book has proved a best seller. For twenty years teams of scientists had been exploring the dark world under trees to find how they share each other’s lives. Peter Wohlleben is the first to explain and expose these discoveries. He has listened to trees and decoded their language. Now he speaks for them.

Monday, November 28, 2016

All attempts to cut trees in Napa to be met with costly opposition.

The document below was sent to the Napa Register for inclusion but the paper wouldn't publish it except as an ad requiring a signature and phone number.

Public Notice
To whom it may concern; BUYERS, SELLERS AND REALTORS, should be aware that the Timber Harvest Permits and Timber Conversion Plans (THP/TCP) for vineyard development in the surrounding hills of the Napa Valley are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.  Now is not like the old days, when they were easily approved.  THPs/TCPs will be contested and scrutinized by the many concerned citizens of the area.  This process will be long and expensive.  Our watershed, wildlife and scenic beauty are important. This notice should be included in the disclosure documents of any pertinent property transaction.   
This is not an official notice from any governmental body and should not be regarded as legal advice from any public agency or private attorney.
Paid for by Bell Canyon Watershed Alliance.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Recent Napa land use fights reprised

                                      "We're going to deal with it."                                                                                  
                                      (Duane Cronk)

By Mike Hackett

   Pioneering member of Napa Valley Land Trust and life-long environmental activist, Duane Cronk, has been vehement about the similarities between national politics and the political climate here in Napa. Cronk was an advisor to the recently stalled Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative for the 2016 ballot. The measure would have provided enhanced protections to Napa County watersheds by limiting the percent of oak woodland removal and mandating forest preservation along Napa streams, rivers and wetlands.
    Cronk has experienced these feelings before: 40 years ago when the Ag Preserve was laid into law. “ We managed to protect the valley floor for our current and future grape and wine production, but as Volker Eisele used to say: ‘we protected the ag preserve over 40 years ago, but now we have to protect the ag watershed,’ and he was so right on the mark.”
    The fiercest battle in Napa is the overarching theme of resident’s rights versus the agri-tourism reality that pervades the famous wine growing region in Northern California.  Where Napa was once a model of inclusiveness within the farming community, it now is choking on its own success. And the wealthy and powerful are interested in having a bite of this cake. Since the formation of Vision 2050, a coalition of 14 environmental neighborhood environmental groups, and increased scrutiny of land use decisions from the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission, the awareness has grown within the Napa Valley community that the balance of rights is far too industry weighted, some in the media even claiming voter suppression relating to the initiative mentioned earlier.
    Some of the most egregious decisions we’ve seen the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors allow are a winery that dug caves without a permit, an underground winery that opened illegal portals, formation of an Ag Protection Advisory Committee ( weighted with industry insiders ) that stalled on anything that would have given a peek into a winery’s operation, the realization that most, if not all wineries are operating outside their allowed use permit, disinterest in the air pollution coming from a expansion-hopeful asphalt plant, and now a gamble with our water infrastructure. Our county is ignoring the pleas of its citizens who are calling for real and science-based environmental changes that they feel are needed in this age of climate change and world-wide water crisis.
    The reality is that without our elected officials listening to the whole of its citizenry, confusion and frustration has grown exponentially. Once the critical mass is reached, the fallout can be dumbfounding. There is growing dissatisfaction with land use decisions in Napa Valley. The public trust is being eroded, and the powerbrokers are having their way.
    The very powerful, along with short-sighted corporations control the balance of power in Napa. Does this sound like the sentiment from those in Nebraska, or Wisconsin or Iowa?  President-elect Trump took full advantage of this same sentiment, offering them a renewal of sorts in their area.  The powerful vintner lobby groups in Napa Valley are also showcasing their bottom lines and pivot to their movement towards greener farming. In reality, the powerful winery and tourism model is to grow, expand and don’t let anyone get in their way.
    This year, the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative was conceived by several local activists who were convinced that Napa has a seriously negative water future.  The City of Napa is very concerned about the quality and quantity from the watersheds into their reservoirs.  The proponents hired arguably the finest Initiative law firm in California, Shute Mihaly and Weinberger to draft the document for the November 2016 ballot.
    After collecting 6300 signatures, roughly 25% more than needed, the Registrar of Voters certified the measure for the ballot. Three days later, at the urging of County Counsel, the Registrar was told by the County’s legal head, to pull the initiative from the ballot, claiming it had a legal flaw. It referenced the Best Management Practices (BMP’S) from the Napa Voluntary Oak Management Plan, but did not include the language in the initiative document itself. The law firm was shocked at this outcome.
     While this held the initiative off the ballot for 2016, the proponents have sued in the District Court in San Francisco and have stated: “this case promises to be one of the most important initiative cases of the decade.”
    There are many in the media calling this “voter suppression,” once again a claim that is heard on the national scene. It appears that officials from county government placed two other county-sponsored initiatives on the ballot, in spite of the fact they contain the same type of reference to outside materials. I said at the time, “The opinion of county counsel radically departs from the intent of the initiative process. The courts have repeatedly and consistently emphasized the fundamental nature of citizens’ right to place initiatives on the ballot.”
    Napa’s citizens are uniting, and along with the trend nationally, will provide resistance to those who have never experienced resistance in the past.  Napa’s citizens will stand together to prevent death to its watersheds, forests, ground water sustainability, habitat, and will leave the valley better than they found it.
    The same questions remain in Napa and throughout the Country: Who’s in control? Why are they in control? What are our philosophical attitudes towards climate change?  Are we going to stand behind reality, or magical thinking?  How do our leaders see their role in the protection of our environment and the planet?
   The trust is gone locally and nationally. Let’s all come together and demand truth and justice. This is the only mechanism by which we will survive. Duane, you were right. The politics of Napa mirror the dissatisfaction we see on the National level. We’re going to deal with it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sleeping with Trump

                                                          Call it culture.                                                                              
    The Ritz-Carlton in your national's capital is welcoming inauguration goers with a bizarre attempt to make Trumpism, well... acceptable. Before the election they had two teams working on separate and competing promotional events, both dependent upon the outcome - one team for Hillary, one for the Donald.
     I couldn't resist an invitation to go see what the latter team came up with, or to pass along photo below, which is supposed to make you want to rent a bed with a steam-pressed coverlet and a silhouette of your president nearby.
     Sweet dreams!                                                


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Napa's man between the developers and the enviros

           People said: "Dave Morrison's smart."                                                                   

  He grew up in Fresno, one of the Central Valley’s sprawling metropolises built around farming. It had turned into another struggling mass of urban problems caused by the failures of corporate agriculture, with decreasing profits for the small farmer. But local radio and television stations continued to broadcast “news” the small farmer could use - weather updates, frost warnings, commodity prices and ag ads - but many residents no longer even understood them.
  Dave Morrison’s father was a truck driver and his best friend’s father a crop-duster, but Dave majored in anthropology and economics at Fresno State, with a minor in studio arts. He went on to get a masters in city and regional planning at UC Davis, a chunky guy with a dark hair and a dead ringer for a Native American. He had his own DNA plumbed, certain he would find an bonafide Indian among his ancestors, but he didn't. The woman he ended up marrying was a student of Native American cultures and ethnography, and it would have pleased them both to find that link.
Meanwhile, working first in the shadow of the state capital and then in Yolo County as a planning director, Dave maintained a full, lustrous ponytail that only added to the Native impression. That and careful, softly-spoken words and a contemplative mien he took with him into the same job in nearby Napa County that had previously been held by the Hillary Gitelman.
Sometimes people with an appointment to speak to Dave would look up and find him standing there, hands folded, patiently waiting. Once behind his desk, he talked precisely about stream set-backs, vineyard permit reviews, or the California Environmental Quality Act and sometimes his eyes would close. That didn’t mean Dave was asleep, just that he was thinking. People began to say, “Dave Morrison’s smart.” 
Yolo’s tax revenue had been the second lowest in California, but that county still found ways to protect agriculture from development. Napa’s tax revenue was much higher and its laws protecting ag the strictest in the state. This was in large part due to the existence of the agricultural preserve, and the passage of various ballot measures taking power away from supervisors. But many of the issues were similar. He had worked on big development projects proposed in Yolo, too, but Napa probably had the most complex regulations in all the rural United States.
The Walt Ranch proposal was the biggest thing he had dealt with: three volumes of regulations and five thousand pages of comments that had to be read and answered. And new comments and information kept coming in. If he denied a project he had to have good reasons and to work closely with the five county supervisors who - ideally - reflected the will of the people. But the people had become quite critical of wineries being forgiven for past violations, and of county government. “We all break the rules sometimes,” he sometimes said, but that no longer placated critics.
And, “Was it Tacitus or Herodotus who wrote, ‘When you have too many rules, you have no law.’ Consistency in applying them is very important.” But the county needed cause to investigate wineries’ improprieties. Potential adversaries on both sides had enough money to take the county to court. Though the department had doubled enforcement efforts against wineries, with four inspectors, complaints persisted.
In some ways, Dave Morrison felt, Napa was following the example set by the Founding Fathers who established the tradition of deliberative debate. But some applicants were unfamiliar with that tradition. They tended to condemn the idea of global warming, whereas others espoused it furiously. Out of curiosity Dave did some research and discovered that only about twenty per cent of the countries of the world had done anything at all about global warming, including America. More surprising, “Only about twenty per cent of California has done anything about it. So Napa County’s a minority within a minority.”
The state under Gov. Jerry Brown set strict standards for measuring greenhouse gasses, which have to be below forty per cent of 1990 levels by 2030. Loss of carbon sequestration occurs when trees are cut, “but the Napa County has 130,000 acres of oaks. Pointing this out doesn’t placate opponents of cutting even one.”
   The county was working on all emissions, including what would be required of the more than five hundred brick-and-mortar wineries, and as many as two hundred more operating out of other facilities. Relatively few were aware of what those emissions amounted to and what would eventually have to be done about it.
You had to practically be a lawyer to be a planner nowadays, Dave thought. Approval of a project went with the land, not the applicant, but projects were closely identified with the people often accused to abusing the land to get ready for an inspection. “Since Google Earth introduced the timeline feature planners can go back and look at the earlier conditions. The internet changed everything, it’s the new Guttenburg press.”
But violations occurring before it are much harder to prove. And water was trickier, since California’s the only state that doesn’t regulate ground water. But that too was changing. Development pressure was huge in the state, and Napa was the only county vibrant enough to withstand it, even though it was right next to San Francisco Bay.
Dave once asked a group of Napa vintners how many of them would accept an offer of two, even three million dollars an acre for their land. Only one hand had gone up, “even though they could have built a winery somewhere else, put thirty million dollars in the bank, and still gotten a 98 Parker score” with what had become a de facto cult wine formula. “But they want to be in Napa. It’s all economics - we’re Americans, and all Americans think that way. But many wineries operating here today are not for business but for vanity. So the economics breaks down because irrationality has been introduced.”  
Ballot measures limiting destruction of land “make land development hard, but if someone spends two million dollars on ads they can probably overturn a law.” He doesn’t say so but that includes the agricultural preserve. “Planning’s about balancing societal issues and finding a way to resolve conflict, but sometimes you just can’t.” He had to be careful not to tip anyone off as to how he might finally come down on the question of Walt Ranch. That included members of his own staff because he didn’t want to prejudice their work.

For distraction, the planning director goes hiking on weekends with his wife and young son. By the time he announced his decision, county-wide spring elections will be over and there’ll be a new board of supervisors. The decks will be clear for what’s bound to be a major legal battle. Craig Hall will sue if he doesn’t get his permit, the combined forces of Circle Oaks, East Napa Watersheds, and the Sierra Club, in conjunction with Chris Malan, will sue if he does. With all that money involved, it’s going to be one hell of a fight.
(Deep Root thinks that, in the end, the tree-cutters will be denied by a county fearful of having to pay huge damages later. Stay

To order my book about the loss of American place go to:


Monday, November 7, 2016

An 800-year-old discovered in Napa

(Art from

Researchers find an ancient grove of redwoods in Napa County

  • By Jorgen Gulliksen

Humboldt State University professor Stephen Sillett and his team recently traveled to a Land Trust of Napa County preserve as part of their collaborative research into the effects of climate change on redwood forests.
The group collected core samples and other measurements from roughly 20 redwoods of various sizes over three days in an effort to not only discover the age of the trees, but also gain insight into their centuries-long history of growth.
During their visit, the research team sampled trees that have now been determined to be more than 500 years old, with one tree aged at approximately 800 years. This would make the redwood about as old as the Magna Carta, the historical peace treaty signed in 1215 by King John of England.
The nearly 800-year-old tree also happened to be the shortest and smallest in diameter of all the trees sampled. The tallest tree sampled by the Sillett team measured 201.7 feet (61.5 meters), likely making it one of the tallest trees in Napa County.
“These forests are a mystery to us because they’re so isolated from the rest of the redwood range,” said Sillett.
“The extreme inland location, isolation from other redwood forests, and lack of logging effects in this grove are what caught my eye when I first visited it three years ago,” said Land Trust Stewardship Program Manager Mike Palladini. “I contacted Sillett’s lab and in 2014 a group came down to have a look.”
Using Palladini’s maps and photos as a jumping off point, Sillett’s lab did some leg work of their own, going so far as to approximate heights of individual trees in the groves with LiDAR technology.

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LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, uses laser light to measure objects on the earth from a plane or helicopter. Sillett’s group pin-pointed one of the tallest trees in the groves, and in 2014 core samples from that tree put its age at over 500 years.
“We’ve noticed in other parts of the redwoods range that most redwoods are producing more wood in recent decades than they have in the past,” said Sillett.
With temperatures rising, growing seasons have extended and evidence of more light and less fog all point to the trees growing faster. The team will use the core samples to quantify rates of wood production.
“We’re not sure how the Napa County trees fall into this spectrum, but from what we discovered two years ago, they’re growing really fast right now,” said Sillett.
The scientific work is ongoing, all core samples have been processed, and data analyses are underway.
And while one redwood grove may be small in the context of the 57,000 acres the Land Trust has protected in Napa County, understanding and caring for unique biological resources such as these is as important to the Land Trust’s mission as protecting the land itself.
                                  (from The Napa Register)                                                   

Friday, November 4, 2016

Napa Confidential: How resort hotels eat your town

              Guess who are the celebrity chefs
                                            The Private I
    Nose's citizen investigator lays out her argument concerning  St. Helena. 

     I was contacted by someone who said they were filing a public corruption complaint and sought history of ownership of these hotels, and "who would have known  what" who are elected officials or serve our city government. In other words, who are the insiders in these plans. The best I can come up with is City Attorney who was also City Attorney for Calistoga when it brought in a "stealth" project.  Like St. Helena, Calistoga also prohibits brand/chain/formula operations.  That not only applies to the visible "sign out there" but to the management of an operation as these international operators provide unfair competition to existing businesses.  When our economy melted down, it was no picnic for our many inn and hotel owners before any new businesses were introduced about 2010.  Existing businesses hadn't begun to recover.
    Somehow these resort hotel aspirants for both Calistoga and St. Helena have been coached about the General Plans and told to "come in below the radar, describe themselves as private development firms, not mention they are major brand operations, get approvals, and the cities are then stuck with the deals."
    It appears to me that Las Alcobas is one of those inside deals.  The approval for the project which was to include 20 on-site rooms for employees was both sold and changed.  I know Mayor Galbraith was directly involved in that from what he boasted in March 2015 that was reported in the local newspaper about $700/night rooms and 70% occupancy. That's not something you get in the first year as an independent start-up already facing competition at that price point from Carneros Inn and Meadowood.  And the City's budget doesn't reflect 70%.  But these people, perhaps attorney and mayor and it could be another member of the City Council, knew it would be a successful brand-managed operation with a loyalty program as to Las Alcobas. When ownership of that project was changed, the Planning Commission was never consulted about this, only about parking on Main Street, not that this is part of an international chain. The changes were made by the Mayor and City Council when Las Alcobas bought out the previously-approved project.   And now that the cat is out of the bag, one can Google Las Alcobas St. Helena and come up with Starwood as the manager, voila.  It violates our General Plan, just as Kelly Foster's Bald Mountain Development for both Calistoga and St. Helena are Four Seasons and has violated Calistoga's General Plan.  About 50% of Four Seasons is owned by a Saudi Prince.
    Kelly Foster recently said Four Seasons doesn't have a "loyalty program," though Starwood does, and that program is good for 50% occupancy from inception.  That's in Starwood's annual report, since it is a public corporation.  Private investors my foot!  It appears more like to Mexican national fronts with minority interests in the resort.
    In addition to what's now here, all three respondents to the City's Request for Proposals are brand operations, as HMS noted it would be a five star brand operation in earlier literature, while HRV (that includes John Pritzker and Koch with Hall Financial Group providing some financing) is a brand operation through Prtizker who has an international operation as Commune which manages hotels.
    If Ted Hall proposes a resort, I doubt he's be starting it up from scratch.  It would likely be brand-managed.  This isn't the type of project one normally engages in after retirement.  Are we to believe that?  It would be another brand/chain/formula.
    Look up John Pritzker on Wiki online.  
    Las Alcobas is a brand operation, Bald Mountain would be a Four Seasons brand operation, HMS has said it is a five-star (brand), "Rosewood" has been bantied, another brand, and HRV is brand via management (Pritzker-Commune).  It makes no difference what the local shingle says, these are all "formula" or "brand" operators.  All of them violate the General Plan.
    These are not the types of hotels that "grab people off the streets, pulls them out of their cars, and encourages them to stay the night," not at these price points of $700/night or close to it.  These are destinations in themselves, adding more traffic to three already "F-rated" intersections (CalTrans grades) in Napa, two of them gateways to St. Helena, and to the low- rated Hwy. 29 and overtaxed Main Street corridor, and now failed intersections in St. Helena.
    They are like "The Wine Train," with immediate international advertising at their fingertips, the latest new thing to do in Napa Valley, stay at a luxury resort.  One of the Hall's operations on Napa River is even an occasional grand prize on a morning game show program, where the storyboard shows a view of the river from a room atop which rests a bottle of Hall wine.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Napa Confidential: Another election's being sweated

                            The Plot Thickens
                                                      The Private I                          

                       More from Nose's citizen investigator:

     John Pritzker, the father of the current John Pritzker, was a member of Meadowood Resort for years, and owned one of the few 40-acre parcels adjoining the resort next to Bill Harlan's property. In 1996 Pritzker decided to sell his 40 acres, and soon thereafter passed away.
    He had been a member of Meadowood, but what the new owner, HRV, if it built a hotel there wouldn't be competing with Meadowood if accurately portrayed by developer Richard Harmon of HRV who says their project would have more moderately priced rooms than those in other proposals by outfits like like Bald Mountain Development and HMS Development. ( This is related to Las Alcobas and Starwood, now Marriott. Click "developers" and you will see that Marriott does all of its own development.
    I don't expect this to knock out Four Seasons (Bald Mountain), since that's a different Saudi, but if either of the other two projects are stealths for Starwood, they might just depart quietly over the next several months because Starwood is now owned by Marriott.
    So much weighs on the outcome of the City Council election. If Mary Koberstein and Geoff Ellsworth are elected, they are protective of the residents of St. Helena and can encourage a third voice to join theirs and reject all resort proposals, yet so much damage can be done before new people take office in January. I am hoping it isn't irreversible damage and that help is on the way.
    St. Helena's City Manager says their budget forecasts of revenue from TOT [Transit Occupancy Tax] are conservative, but being off by $500,000 is a little too conservative. She must be aware that the Las Alcobas project is a Starwood project with a loyalty program.  She also advised that the city has secured new auditors.  That is a huge red flag to any banker, with a question "why?"
    An auditor is not responsible for reviewing "compliance with government contract issues," so as to the FEMA problem they were never required to examine the City's compliance with FEMA.  They would have only be responsible for seeing if there was proper "authority" for the signing of a $1.9 million check back to FEMA but then there have been no auditors for two years!
    It's going to be interesting with the election Nov. 8 and the water and waste water rate hearing Nov. 29. I'm hoping the composition of the City Council changes.
                (Next: The hotels that could eat St. Helena)