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If they didn’t cause so much trouble, one might almost feel sorry for eucalyptus trees. They get so much bad press.

Just in the past several weeks we’ve seen headlines telling us “Massive eucalyptus tree crushes cars in Lafayette parking lot,” and “Eucalyptus tree falls at UCSD, smashing cars,” and “Massive eucalyptus tree falls, crushes car in Fremont,” and “Expert: Doubtful that drought felled eucalyptus tree at Whittier wedding.” That last falling eucalyptus, by the way, killed one and injured five.

So why are we talking about eucalyptus trees? Because fallen eucalyptus prevented me from making it to the Bay area in time to enjoy a concert with my daughter on Tuesday and I remembered two other times in the past two years when I missed something important because of that same damned grove of eucalyptus trees that straddle Highway 101 just north of Prunedale.

Look, I like trees as much as anyone. Even eucalyptus trees. I like the way they smell and they seem at home here in California despite their decidedly non-native status. But a couple of wayward eucalyptus trees managed to essentially close Highway 101 from shortly after noon until almost 5 p.m. where the highway meets Rocks Road not far from the San Juan Bautista turnoff. You know the place. The trees make for a pleasantly shady tunnel there. Do not be fooled.

It wasn’t only the fault of the trees, of course, though they are notorious fallers. The big-time rains have soaked the ground. There have been winds. Weather troubles abound. But there are other culprits, including the highway powers that be, and the public that supposedly provides direction to those powers. For they have decided that it’s just fine to have several hundred big eucalyptus trees doing their thing right alongside one of the most important highways in the western United States.

The trees were not my only problem Tuesday. They required me to spend 90 minutes in Prunedale staring at the back of a cattle truck. But if that had been the only delay, I might have made it to the show. I wasn’t counting on the highway being blocked by Coyote Creek overflow at the north end of Morgan Hill.

I knew the road was blocked but I stupidly figured there would be a simple and quick detour. Get off at one exit, take surface streets for 10 minutes and get back on. Nope. This was get off at one exit and then crawl along a crowded country road forever because the nearest freeway on ramp was about a thousand miles north. OK, it was five miles but it was the longest five miles I’ve ever seen. (This is where I would put in a kind word for the CHP if I had seen any during my eight-hour journey to Berkeley.)

I’m focusing instead on the trees because Coyote Creek isn’t a continuing problem and, if it was, it wouldn’t be as easily fixed.

So, back to the trees.

For anyone else was caught in the 101 meltdown Tuesday, were you surprised to learn that it involved the eucalyptus grove at Rocks Road? If you were surprised, have you lived here long?

No, I’m not suggesting that we clear-cut freeway frontage everywhere. I would miss the eucalyptus trees if they were turned into firewood. But even if all the eucalyptus trees within falling distance of the freeway were eliminated, there would still be a few thousand trees in the grove.

Responsible property owner trim their trees and cut down the ones most likely to snap power lines or block roads in a storm. Shouldn’t we expect as much from Caltrans?

Sure, there are more important things to worry about. That’s true for just about any issue you can come up with. The weather has pounded the region over the past several days and many people have suffered troubles far worse than missing a concert. I should be writing that or about how the Monterey City Council was getting buffaloed by the Wharf Lords while I was not enjoying the concert. But most of the bigger problems have either no solution or no easy solution. This one seems pretty simple.


Oil and gas well profiled on sunset skyMEASURE Z SUPPORTS EXISTING OIL INDUSTRY JOBS

I’m Ed Mitchell, a long-time resident of Prunedale. About eight years ago, I spoke up when the first permit for fracking came before the Board of Supervisors. Since then, I’ve worked with organizations from Aromas to Jolon to protect Monterey County’s water from being harmed by the negative impacts of fracking.

That effort has included co-founding the organization that put forward the Protect Our Water— Ban Fracking initiative that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot as Measure Z. Having recently seen and heard misleading comments about the initiative, I want to share my knowledge about the initiative’s purpose versus the high-risk contract that the fracking industry wants the public to accept. Given that I have worked on the fracking issue steadily for eight years and helped draft the initiative, I believe my comments might be informative to readers of the Monterey Bay Partisan.

The initiative to ban fracking is about protecting our water — not about oil.

It’s about preventing toxic fracking fluids from being injected and stored in local water basins, forever threatening generations to come.

It’s about allowing traditional oil jobs to continue — while protecting the economic well-being of this county’s ag, real estate and hospitality jobs from an extremely polluting and new extraction technology.

The initiative is supported by tens of thousand of voters in all parts of the county.

Please consider the following risk observations, scientific findings,and facts about local fracking:

Risk Observation 1: Fracking along the Salinas River and injecting contaminated fracking fluids into the water basin in the most seismically active oil field in America is a formula for economic disaster for the Salad Bowl of America if pollution leaks into the single source of water for the Valley.

FACT #1: Last March, the L.A. times highlighted this risk by reporting on the USGS earthquake studies in Oklahoma. From 2009 to 2015, earthquake activity directly correlated to fracking injection activity spiked from a century-long average of three magnitude 3 earthquakes to 809 quakes of magnitudes 3 to 5. Monterey County now has an average of one magnitude 6.0 or higher earthquake every 23 years. Parkfield is recognized as one of the world’s most highly seismic areas, and the major San Andreas fault runs through the county.

Fact #2: In March 2016, a scientific report verified our water can be polluted in another way. A study by scientists from Stanford University2, published in Environmental Science & Technology, found that 10 years of fracking operations near Pavillion, Wyo., “have had clear impact to underground sources of drinking water” and “other states which have shallow fracking operations, such as California… could also have contaminated water.” Is that what we want to happen to our ground water?

Risk Observation 2: The Salad Bowl of America is a national strategic asset, equal in importance to any oil field in the U.S.

Fact #3 Yet, representatives of the fracking industry talk about 732 oil jobs without recognizing risks to other industries, while wanting this type of contract: They want unlimited use of local water. They want to pump millions of gallons of contaminated water back into the water basin. And they want to shift ALL of the long-term risks to local residents. Based upon my extensive government contracting experience, that’s an incredibly unfair contract for the public. The frackers get all the profits while the public gets all the risks.

Fact #4 In June 2012, seismic thumper trucks showed up around Aromas in North County to determine the feasibility of fracking. Seeking fracking permits and conducting seismic surveys prove oil companies are actively seeking to frack in Monterey. And if allowed, fracking will stretch from South County to North County.

Fact #5 In 2014, the State Groundwater Sustainability Act was approved requiring the county to recharge local overdrafted water basins. Yet the fracking industry wants unlimited use of water from the Salinas Valley while agriculture and residents continually conserve water and many pay higher prices for water. That’s not fair— but the fracking industry doesn’t care.

Fact #6 Representatives of the fracking industry claim in that oil companies in California are subject to the strictest regulations in America. However, the quality of protection the regulations provide is only as good as the integrity of those who comply and the integrity of those who enforce. For example on Nov. 14, 2014, NBC presented its investigative report Waste Water from Oil Fracking Injected into Clean Aquifers3 revealing that the DOGGR, California’s watchdog agency over fracking operations, failed to stop fracking companies from injecting contaminated fracking water into federally protected potable water aquifers. Thirty-four such wells are in Monterey County. That’s not compliance or enforcement — and the fracking industry knows it.

Operating oil well profiled on dramatic cloudy sky

Fact #7 The Protect Our Water initiative submitted to the Registrar of Voters specifically allows current oil operations to continue4. I know that because I drafted the early versions of the initiative, and with others ensured wording was inserted so San Ardo jobs were protected. I quote from page 1:

“Section 1 Paragraph B: “This Initiative does not prohibit oil and gas operations … from using existing oil and gas wells in the County, which number over 1,500 at the time this Initiative was submitted….” To further ensure the type of work that has gone on for decades would be allowed to continue, we inserted into Section 2 the definition of current operations that are allowed to continue, including: “steam flooding, water flooding, or cyclic steaming, routine well cleanout work, routine well maintenance, routine removal of formation damage due to drilling, bottom hole pressure surveys, or routine activities that do not affect the integrity of the well or the formation.” Any claim by frackers that cyclic steam injection is not allowed is deception.

Additionally, the fracking industry misrepresents that 732 oil field jobs will be lost if a fracking ban is passed … while avoiding discussing the risk to 100,000 ag, real estate and hospitality jobs by installing fracking oil wells near or on farms or storing toxic fracking fluids in the local water basin near our irrigation water. Their 732 jobs are more important than tens of thousands of jobs in other industries in the Salinas Valley? That’s incredibly one sided. But the frackers don’t care.

If you care about local impacts, and if you care that a large earthquake could easily cause toxic fracking fluids to leak into our irrigation and drinking water; and if you care as much about the 100,000 non-oil jobs as you do aobut the 732 CONTINUING jobs in San Ardo, and if you do care about protecting your children’s future, then VOTE YES on measure Z to Ban Fracking in Monterey County. Z for Zero fracking, Zero jobs lost, and Zero impact to our water.

To read the initiative please go to:   www.protectmontereycounty.org

Substantiating sources:

1   L.A. Times, Mar 02, 2016, Yardley: Oklahoma takes action on fracking-related earthquakes — but too late, critics say http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-sej-oklahoma-quakes-fracking-20160302-story.html

2   Stanford University, March 29, 2016 Impact to Underground Sources of Drinking Water and Domestic Wells from Production Well Stimulation and Completion Practices in the Pavillion, Wyoming, Field http://news.stanford.edu/2016/03/29/pavillion-fracking-water-032916/

3 NBC TV … Nov 14, 2014: Waste Water from Oil Fracking Injected into Clean Aquifers http://www.nbcbayarea.com/investigations/Waste-Water-from-Oil-Fracking-Injected-into-Clean-Aquifers-282733051.html

4   March 2016, Monterey County PMC Initiative:Protect Our Water: Ban Fracking and Limit Risky Oil Operations Initiative http://www.protectmontereycounty.org/the_initiative


The white deer of Monterey

We just finished raking dead holly tree leaves from the juniper bushes. We hope we didn’t need a permit for that.

Raking unsightly deciduous leaves from low-spreading conifers is apparently the sort of landscape maintenance required of responsible urban dwellers.

Or maybe not. We’re still learning the rules of urban dwelling. We understand that domestic water use should be minimized, but we have not yet received municipal directives about yard-waste maintenance.

We moved to Monterey a couple of weeks ago, to a house in the Old Monterey neighborhood behind Colton Hall. It is an area that we had heard referred to as Spaghetti Hill, though we were recently told by a kindly neighbor that enlightened natives call it Garlic Hill. The woman has apparently lived in the neighborhood since forever, so she probably knows.

We come to the neighborhood from Prunedale, a state of mind along the northern fringes of Monterey County. We were there for 35 years, which amounts to three-and-a-half decades of hearing lamebrain Prunetucky jokes.

It’s also 35 years of avoiding (mostly) the responsibilities of civilization. It’s been 35 years of crowing roosters, landscape-munching deer and starry, silent nights punctuated by the occasional baffling shotgun blast. It’s been 35 years free of Cal Am Water Co., municipal interference and enforcement of basic county regulations.

Out in Prunedale, where the oak trees meet the eucalyptus, the whims of home ownership are variable. You can live in a palace situated next to a rusty double-wide. Some people have access to water; others don’t. If your property is situated along a major road, it’s best to meet county requirements in all activities. If your property is at the end of a long and terrifying driveway, you can likely get away with any sort of toxic situation.

Our life in Prunedale was sublime. Terrific neighbors, quiet oak forests, functioning schools and not as many skunks as you might have heard. When we first moved there, it had a reputation as some sort of hillbilly holler, but it has diversified nicely over the years. As an example, the property at Dolan Road and Castroville Boulevard that was once a roping arena is now a busy weekend Charreada facility.

The seclusion of Prunedale is great, yet its centralized geographic location and recent highway improvements mean that Prunedaleans are no more than a half-hour drive from Salinas, Santa Cruz, Monterey or San Juan Bautista, and less than 90 minutes from the heart of San Francisco. It’s a convenience that shouldn’t be overlooked.

But then, as the kids got lives of their own, we realized that everything was a half-hour away. The location didn’t seem so convenient anymore. It came time to find a place where we could simply stagger home rather than weave all over the highway.

So we settled on Monterey. We’re now in a neighborhood with neighborly neighbors, functioning sidewalks, expensive Cal Am service and curbside trash pickup. Our house is 105 years old, a middling but comfortable stepchild in a neighborhood teeming with stately architectural charm.

We are learning to adjust. We require a permit to park on our street. Vehicles careen up and down the street less than 20 yards from our living room. Porch lights beam through the bedroom windows. Pedestrians parade the sidewalk. Students attending MIIS are tucked away in apartment buildings everywhere. The holly tree drops its leaves on the juniper.

Change is difficult, as we know. Habits are formed in a place that served as home for more than three decades. We loved Prunedale. But habits can be quickly broken in a city like Monterey.

The day after the crew from Cardinale Moving and Storage delivered our stuff to the new home, we let the dog drag us around the new neighborhood for his post-dinner walk. We headed up the hill, toward the gulch behind Monterey High School. As we turned a new corner, we encountered a white deer standing in the middle of the street. She calmly assessed our presence and quickly determined we were no threat to her two fawns.

The white deer is a rarity in these parts, but it’s a creature of myth and legend. Tribes of Native Americans revered them. The white stag is the heraldic symbol of England’s King Richard II. A white deer is said to have sent King Arthur’s Court on adventures against fairies and gods.

And in Hungary, a mythological white stag led two brothers, Hunar and Magar, to a fertile land to establish the Hun and Magyar people.

The white deer of Monterey did not lead us here, but we’re grateful she welcomed us to her neighborhood.

Livernois, a former editor, reporter and columnist for the Monterey Herald, is the author of “The Road to Guanajuato.”