Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Uncommon Enrollment: “School Choice” in lieu of “School Improvement”

Uncommon Enrollment: “School Choice” in lieu of “School Improvement”

Because I am now a declared candidate for Oakland Unified School Board member in District 1, I have decided to pay more attention to this blog.

And I start with “a fix in search of a problem” and “a problem begging for a fix.”

The problem is enrollment.

At a recent forum, two current school board members, including the one I am running against, talked to us about a vague proposal called “Common Enrollment.”  This is the “fix in search of a problem.”

Some of us raised our hands and spoke about the confusion that is called the current enrollment system.  More than a couple of us as parents had filled in applications for our children, only to find out that they had been lost and not entered into the “lottery” that passes for school choice in Oakland.

Other simple problems, such as not being able to file enrollment in the schools themselves, were also brought up by a few parents.

So I asked a simple question:  Will the school board hold a hearing on the difficulties with the current setup?

The answer was “good question” and the real answer is "No."

A public consultation about what the current parents, teachers and administrators would like to see in an enrollment system is also apparently not in the works in any real way.  Maybe something happens somewhere, but my son’s school has not sent me any invitation to anything such as this.  Nor has anyone else, unless there was some fine print I missed.

So here is the proverbial cart before the horse called “Common Enrollment.” Do not confuse this with the English words “common” and “enrollment.”  This is more of a Policy and/or a brand name with a whopping price tag.  It also comes with a strange feature that attaches the charter schools to the OUSD-managed schools on an opt-in basis decided by the charter schools.

If this sounds a bit one-way in favor of the charter schools, well, it probably is, and entirely so if they do not have to pay for it.  Some parents and teachers are concerned that Common Enrollment is a way to make it easier for students to leave normal public schools and go to charters.  They are probably right about that.

The idea that we make less of a mess of all this has its merits.  As one teacher pointed out at the public forum, the late-minute changes during the first weeks of school are very destructive to getting the teacher-parent community off to a good start.  The idea that neither the public nor the charter schools should be trapping in any parents or making it hard to prefer a school of either types also has its merits.  These are schools, not consumer speed traps.

Common Enrollment is offering us “school choice” in lieu of “school improvement.”  The idea that we shop for schools the way we pick out a restaurant has been taken too far.

Why would any parent, including myself, want to send their child to anywhere other than the local school?  This is the question and this is the problem to solve.  A better system to use computers to jump from a sinking ship is hardly a progressive solution.

Trying to make sure local schools have what the parents and students are looking elsewhere to find would be a much better problem to begin to fix.

Looking at all the options for running a school district enrollment process should include more than one group trying to make a sale.  There are other software packages out there.  I would like to see if there is not one that also integrates keeping student, parent and volunteer records in a systematic way, maybe that includes a district wide ID card.  (Oakland has a municipal ID card; maybe we could use that?)

But this Wednesday we will not be looking at what the parents and teachers think needs to be done to create an improved enrollment system.

We will not be looking at what other school districts do, nor how they do it integrates with their general computer database systems.

What we will be looking at is basically a sales presentation printout of a slide show.

If there is a business proposal on the table, such as a proposed contract from the Common Enrollment people who will charge us to use their “algorithms,” it was not attached to the “report” on the OUSD board meeting website.

And a discussion about why parents are not finding their neighborhood school good enough, well, I do not think this concern is on the schedule either.  Not yet. 
 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Not Hillary



A friend sent out a group email telling us he wants to support Bernie for president for all the normal progressive reasons along with some admiration for his long, dedicated career.  
 
Another friend on the list wrote us all a reply that said she would vote for Hillary mostly because she was smarter than Bernie and much more experienced.

My slightly edited response to THAT is what I am sharing here:  
 

-------------------------------------------

I don't think I could disagree more. 

By that experience and intelligence scale, the best President of recent times is HW Bush. 

Personally I suffered the death and destruction caused by the Regan Administration against Nicaragua and was a close witness to the horror of El Salvador and Guatemala.   

All of that with the support of the "moderate" Democrats let up by Hillary, Bill and Al Gore among others in the DLC translated into the Arkansas National Guard being the cover for the Contras in Nicaragua, the ARENA death squads in Salvador, the Rios Mont government in Guatemala city from their base in Honduras.  The same Honduras that had its president show the door by US led corruption of the political process and the small dose of military support to expelling him from his own country from a US air base as decision maker Hillary Clinton 'served' as Secretary of State in charge of the CIA at the time.   

If that is experience, I want nothing of it.  Personally I feel a deep sense of outrage that will only go away when the image of student bodies stacked in my machine shop after a Contra attack fades, along with the other things I saw during those five years.  Is that another thing that Americans can just say "oh, well" about?  This government sure kills a lot of people around the world and it gets pretty glibly explained away.  Hillary has been an actor and an official helping to run that show.   

That is the personal, emotional side of political awareness.   

The analytical side should have room to put in a framework for the rise in drone strikes, the disasters in Libya, Syria, Iraq and. and and, to understand why there was a bailout for the banks, but not the mortgage holders, why there is only carbon control on coal, and only in lip service, why the civil rights of Americans, and our lives, stop with a police stop, why Snowden is in exile and why Manning is in Leavenworth after a year of torture in Quantico, why the Occupy protests were shut down by the police in over twenty cities on the same week, why more people have been deported from our nation than ever before, and maybe we get some kind of an idea of who Hillary is and has been from her Democratic Leadership Committee and Walmart days and up until now and what kind of criminals run  our nation.  She is not just part of this group, she is one of its leaders.  

 The democracy that we live in is the one where Hillary was a guest of honor when Obama and Romney had that TV show called a debate while the Green Party candidate was in the basement chained to a chair.   

Any explanation of how all of this is OK does not get my support. 

I don't give a damn about the people involved, how smart they are or how good their CV looks.

What we are missing is the ethics. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Giving Tuesday?

Giving Tuesday?  

Today my email box is starting to have a number of appeals in it telling me that TODAY is Giving Tuesday, as some sequence of what we consumers are supposed to do as part of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both of which I had no trouble ignoring.  

Seems groups that I like and others that I have learned to recognize as too corporate to be of any value any more both wrap themselves up in Giving Tuesday like a used car sales floor with an American flag and a balloon sending us all glossy emails with logos, photos of some guru or some other eye catching glitz all bringing us to a prominent click point called DONATE.  

Every time I see these DONATE buttons I keep clear in my mind that if you want to find an international corporation with a rogue trader who lost millions of dollars, that includes Greenpeace.  

Of course that was just an exceptional day.  Not an exception is the inflated weight of the CORPORATION aspect of a Non-Profit Corporation.  Once upon a time Greenpeace actions were about conviction, now it may still be for some, but for others, it is about brand recognition.  

Being a member of Greenpeace is about DONATE and not much else.  Their employees stop and lecture us about some activity in South Asia that they are marketing, but in the last 15 years, I have never had a response to giving them my card from the local Green Party asking to talk about environmental issues here in Oakland.  All the young people could do was keep trying to get me to sign over my credit card on the clipboard based on the logo decorating their t-shirts.  

As a former board member of a local non-profit that advocates for Oakland youth and police accountability I attended the annual dinner last month.  My job was to fly the flag and make sure that the new board had my public support.  They had a guest speaker who was not really part of the crew but was considered an "awesome" speaker.  "Awesome" meant that she was aggressive at hustling this crowd of people who had already paid $50 a piece for bad flautas, for more money.  

In her pitch she said that "to be more effective you need more money" to which I say "not just" and "money for what?"  

Usually that "what" is paid advertising.  In 21st century America we do not move people, we advertise to markets.  

Money can do a lot of things.  When your organization follows DONATE to get lots of cash, you can do a lot of what cash can do.  You can brand, you can publicize, you can sell ideas, you can lobby.  

But you can not build a movement and right now we need a movement more than anything else.  To get a Police Commission in Oakland, we need more than ads and a moment with a council member.  We need a movement of the people to make sure we put civilians in charge of the police instead of the other way around.  We need citizens to stand up and vote, not vote marketers to squeak out a sale.

To be more effective we need more of us, especially the younger ones of us to be active producers of our political life and not consumers of political product.  

The only thing you can do if you get swallowed up by that DONATE button is become just another political product and another brand fighting for market share and infotainment attention.  

In a real organization members own the organization, they vote, they elect, they belong.  They will also donate, but it has a different meaning than when a 501(c)3 board hires a canvassing firm to meet their numbers.  You can donate all you want, you will never get a movement, not even an organization that is owned by its members, and they will never be able to move away from the system that they have become part of, use the methods of, and finally depend on for their position of influence.  Greenpeace had grown big and influential, but are we doing anything effective about the environment?  Is it a movement or a gesture and posture? 

One could ask the same question about the other Giving Tuesday emails in my box.  

Let's see, the Theatre group I love and have loyally supported for 25 years has chimed in.  Giving Tuesday seems like a good idea to somebody over there.  Will that help us with the ever aging and dwindling audiences?  This is the same group whose posters we reprinted and put up in our area year after year for nine years, and every one of those years it seemed like a big surprise to them that they had supporters in the area around the park where they put on a show.  Were we ever organized to build up support and audience even when we asked?  Of course not, but I get about 3-5 appeal letters from them a year.  So many in fact that if I missed a year it was because the number of DONATE appeals confuse me, and I could not remember if I had DONATED that year or not. 

I still love them, I will still send in an annual donation. 

A much less loved group who will never have a dime of my support is right there in the DONATE line, not that I saw an email from them.  Pretty shameless for a PAC backed by a billionaire to push for the privatization and characterization of Oakland Public Schools to put their hand out.  Maybe they think DONATE will make people feel like they are a part of something, sort of like the Pepsi generation.  Get someone to buy once, you are on the path to developing a brand habit. 

The cult that considers itself the leadership of our communities had a wonderful email full of things done by other people to associate with their DONATE button.

And there were a few requests that I totally support.  People looking for direct funding from the public to protect their independence from big money, people who DO have a membership owned organization, people doing honorable work that is being starved for cash.  For people like that I wish I had more money, and time.  There is a question though as to who gets jobs and support from our libraries, schools, jails and all that, and who is sent begging for funds to do what we as a society should make part of government's job.  We are still far from the day that the schools are funded and the armed forces are out begging for donations.  Many of the requests are valid and needed because of public neglect.

Quite a few other brands have followed along and if enough of them do it, Giving Tuesday will become ‘a thing’ on the consumer calendar. It probably already is.  (I think that I have 8 emails now, maybe 10, my partner has over 20 and needs to ask for support for the good work she does).  Ever feel trapped into a method and offered few other ways to support good work? 

If the only way to vote for what gets done is with dollars, then we should not be surprised that most what is getting done, looks good to those who have most of the dollars.  Consumer democracy is democratic how?  No surprise then that so many needs of those with the fewest dollars are left begging.

I should be thankful for Giving Tuesday.  It reminds me that I should ignore all those emails in my box, and go back out and do something. 

Something with other people, 

face to face.  

No charge. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

When do we get to say we told you so?

When do we get to say we told you so?  
 
What did we say?  
 
We said that people like the Mujahedeen, the Contras, and UNITA were bad news, and would continue to be bad news long after the short term politics were forgotten.  Supporting groups like that was akin to keeping a violent vicious guard dog that might kill someone.  Sort of like the right wing that denies evolution and climate change or the police that shoot to kill as a policy.  That dog can only be trusted the length the leash it will sooner or later get free of.  
 
Who did we say it to?  
 
Mostly we were talking to the people who were not making these decisions.  We were telling the common public that it was time to oppose and object.  It was on a long list of things we have been saying should be opposed and objected to.  If we had a message to the less than one percent who really make the choices that govern our lives, that message was: stop! You are going too far, even for you who seem to not know the limits of decency or even the limits of the possible. 
 
Who was 'we' to say it?  
 
It was the left in all its forms.  I was part of it, ridiculed in my youth for warning that Jimmy Carter was getting us into generational trouble and that the situation in Afghanistan was a nightmare that would continue long after the Soviet Union woke up and went home.  It was only one of many warnings, about wealth, religious fanaticism, the environment, civil rights and many other international affairs.  
 
I just wrote a blog saying that despite his great speech before congress, President Holland leads a government that is part of the problem.  We had no peace, it gave people no justice and now we plan to fix that with more war and injustice?  
 
And we have a world media that chokes on the word "imperialism".  
 
Continuing a lifetime of working for some kind of alternative (and at times getting some of it) I find myself reading emails the break the heart.  
 
One old leftist teacher writes me that she is overjoyed to see her native France join the US effort in Syria with airstrikes against ISIS.  In her dry French way, I think she has told me that my blog ended our friendship of twenty years.  Yet she was one of the people who once joined me putting out the warning that events like this were going to happen as a direct result of what the US and France was doing in North Africa and the Mid-East.  If such a person can now get swept up in the logic of violence, I ask myself how well we learned the lessons we once gave and how well we understand what we should know full well by now.  When are we going to face the realities of what our governments are doing?
 
Another email written in French, with a Moroccan accent, does not endorse the vicious circle, but instead tells of the death of a friend's son, a child he saw born and helped raise in one of the attacks last Friday in Paris.  That young man was lost to a war that his parents and friends had committed themselves to keep from happening.  
 
Other emails from kindred spirits range from talking about how France was ALREADY part of the (legal?) air strikes inside Syria against ISIS, about how it is not so great to be a Muslim in Europe and caring people who don't know that part of the world asking WTF?  We tell each other we knew.  Not exactly this, no, but we knew something like this would happen, yes.  We tell each other that we told them so.  There is no satisfaction in having been right. 
 
I have one friend in Paris who is the child of Holocaust survivors. He and I met working in Nicaragua and have been in solidarity ever since.  He writes me about anti-racism actions in France, supporting the people of Palestine and members of the Israeli Army who refuse to oppress.   I write him about running for office as a Green, trying to get some control over the Oakland Police and my fight against a media that chokes on the word 'imperialism’.  
 
In that time we have raised young men, little different from Amine, son of Taoufiq, lifelong friend of our buddy of my friend Youssef, who just died in a night club caught in the cross fire between two monsters.  
 
We knew, we know and we told them so.  
 
And we need to keep saying it.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

The president just spoke before congress.

 
 
The president just spoke before congress.  
 
Not our president, not our congress.  
 
France.  
 
He said a lot of the things we should all have expected from him.  
 
France will stand firm.  We have seen worse than this.  Life will go on, the elections will go on, the climate summit will go on and we will look to the future.  Everything one would expect from a president wrapped in the red white and blue.  
 
Unlike another president, he was articulate.  
 
He said some things I should have expected, but after so many years living in the United Stares, I no longer had those expectations.  
 
He gave a quick account of what happened.  
He gave a detailed account of what he has done so far.  
He said which part of international law they would base themselves on. 
He made it clear that he will be calling in the military alliances France is member of.
And call a meeting of the security council of the UN asking for a resolution. 
He told us that he will be talking with Obama and Putin about a coalition against ISIS.  
And he said what expenditures will be and is asking congress for the money.  
 
All that makes a lot of sense, but it is not what we have gotten used to when our own red, white and blue is being used as a wrapping.  This speech was a mix between good political skills, good administrative thinking and knowing how to make an effective public address.  
 
Salient points for my American ears was the commitment to legal rights and procedures.  We are not asking to waive the law, we are asking for funds to enforce it.  
 
One part of his request for constitutional changes was to have a different version of the state of emergency.  The current law allows the president and the military to take over civilian authorities which Holland declared simply not relevant to terrorism.  The current law was written to deal with either an armed uprising or a foreign invasion, both of which France knows about more than we do. 
 
He did not call it that, but he asked for the French law to have lesser version of a state of emergency to deal with this new kind of problem.  To show some national unity, he asked to have the commission of the last government serve as a departure point for the discussions leading to the legal changes that he is asking for. 
 
I thought when he said that this was not a clash of civilizations, but a fight between civilization and terrorism he was making a good point, well spoken, had it been true.  He made it clear that some of the perpetrators are French and that part of the problem was internal.  The president acknowledged that France is in middle of a confusing situation with many social factors in France and overseas,  yet nothing stopped ISIS from being a group that now had to be defeated.  
 
It was hard to criticize anything he just put out there except for the idea that French duel citizens born in France should be stripped of their citizenship if found to be convicted of terrorism or other acts of war against their country.  I like the "convicted" requirement that our government has replaced with at "determination" and a murderous air strike, but anyone on our side of the Atlantic should shudder at the idea of anyone not being a citizen in the nation where they were born.  Our history with that included chattel slavery and genocide against natives and the best it ever gave us was Japanese internment and Mexican expulsions. 
 
It is not hard to criticize France, including this man's government.  Have we forgotten Libya?  The first planes to hit the Gheddafi government were French.   That nation still does not have a government and a lot off it is under extremist control.  France had to step in with boots on the ground so that Mali did not go the same way.  France has been an ally of the US with this anti Syrian government policy which has led to the same thing in two countries.  
 
When I say under extremist control, I mean OTHER extremists than the extreme imperialist policies running around Europe and the world in which France is a partner.  One could go back to Vietnam, Algeria and the cold war, but just in more recent post Soviet times France was a big piece in shutting down the elections in Algeria, supporting a military putsch run by the same people who fought France for their independence in the 60's.  You could call this one of the first anti Islamist civil wars in the current period.  
 
France was a big help to the extremists of  Kosovo, taking their independence unilaterally from Serbia (and some un happy Serbs with it) after France and the other Security Council members resolved in the UN that Serbia's territorial integrity would be respected.  What did they mean by respected?  This president of France seems to have no problem with reversing such politics when it came to Serbs in Bosnia or when it comes to Russian speakers in the Eastern Ukraine.  It seems to have no problem with bombing the people of Afghanistan or Yemen and never did.  The whole support to extremists in Afghanistan against the Soviets and again after the Russians left town never happened despite French objections.  Only slightly less silent is French mention of anything critical of Israel whose treatment of the Palestinians is part  and parcel of  what might cause a young French national to go help ISIS. 
 
The racist idea that we westerners are civilization and that the radicals in the desert are some kind of animal sounds good when ISIS does something this radical, bloody, and outrageous.  132 dead, 300 wounded?  That is any slow day in the mid east.  That is probably a peaceful day in Syria or Yemen.  There are any number of nations where France is a partner in brutal killings from the air against people who dare to want a government that the western powers have not "determined" have a right to live.  Those people don't have a right to live either and even if we do not see it daily on our screens, they see it on their streets and in today's world, we can all see it on line, if we dare to face this truth about our times.  France joins the US saying that the Syrian dictatorship is intolerable and must go, yet any Arab knows that Saudi Arabia and Egypt are both just as bad to their people, dictatorial and intolerant as any government in Damascus or Kabul ever was. 
 
At the end of the 19th Century there was an inside group of major political powers who would gang up together to impose their will on nations where they did profitable business.  At the time of the Opium wars, France was a full partner, and France is a full partner today.  Today we call it the G7.  We have civil rights and some kind of democracy at home, and citizens of the dominated world have the right to do as they are told, or have our governments impose their will with violence.  
 
The twentieth century gave us the transition from gunboat diplomacy to drone strike diplomacy.  
 
This allows this modern French speaker to stream the president's speech from Congress Hall, Versailles live, in-direct telling me the most effective old lies.  The lies of omission.  
 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On the day after election night...

 There are a few things that I would like to share about the Canadian elections.  

First off is that they took place, not that we would have known it.  
We sure did not hear anything about it on our KPFA, nor on Democracy Now.  A search of Amy Goodman's website for the words Canada and Elections gets us Naomi Klein selling another book.  This is the same Amy Goodman who can not say anything about Canada without sounding patronizing and sardonic and who got herself thrown out of British Coloumbia because the Canadian authorities gave her more credit than she deserved around the issues of Native peoples and the Olympic Games.  She had never heard about it, and because Democracy Now never covers such little silly things, neither have we.  

Which might be better than the NPR - BBC version of things which consisted of one interview with a well known satirist about his election predictions.  Yes, they both only interviewed a satirist and they both talked to the same satirist.  So much of the English speaking world got a view of the Canadian elections that was shallow, based on media perceptions and did not speak French. 

Operating under the assumption that Canada is a real country, not a joke, and that its peoples are real peoples, not pet hamsters, and have real issues and a real elections worth talking about, I will have to stand in and try to talk about what just happened to one North American in 11, to one of the economies of the G8, the second largest territory in the world, and a main military partner of the US in NATO, NORAD and whatever the hell we call the coalition of the willing these days in our endless wars in the mid east.  

The oil industry dodged a bullet yesterday.  To switch from a "majority" Conservative government with about a third of the popular vote to a "majority" Liberal government with about two fifths of the popular vote mostly means that the New Democratic Party will not have to be accommodated and will continue to be shut out of government.  Pipelines will continue.  A lot of things will continue including military things, political things.  

We have done the Canadian version of the Republican / Democrat teeter toter.  

The basic international policies of Canada will not change much, but we will make a better show of it at the climate talks with empty words and there will be less messing around with such issues as women swearing their oath of Canadian citizenship wearing a burka.  

Many Canadians stand up for some very good ideas, as many of us do, but where in the US we have a winner-take-all advertising horse race paid for by the stable owners, in Canada we keep democracy down with a system called first-past-the-post. 

A Canadian parliamentary seat is decided by who gets the most votes in that riding without run offs.  It is not hard to find a political system that is less democratic than the US, one only has to look to Canada, the UK, Australia and about anywhere our British colony starters set up shop.   If Canada or the UK have ever had a government with the majority of the seats in Parliament representing a majority of votes of the people, I have not heard of it.  Certainly not the Harper government that got "voted" out yesterday, nor the Trudeau one that got "voted in". Nor the one in the UK today with about a third of the vote.

Real results? Liberals 39%, Conservatives 32%, Socialists 20 %, Quebec Separatist 6% and Greens 3.5%. Real seats, a majority to the Liberals who now form a government without any need for other party support, about a fair share to the Conservatives, who form the Opposition, which in Canada has a legal standing, way too few to the NDP social democrats who will fight to be heard even when they represent one Canadian in five, ten seats go the Bloc Quebecois and one to the Greens, making them the most under represented party in the house. Given that there is not a US style check and balance system this gives the Liberals and their financial supporters the freedom to run things as they wish until they decide to call the next election. (yep, no fixed term)

Canada will have more of the trappings of pluralism without any of the bothersome mess of dealing with any legislative oversight.  Instead of having a president and cabinet secretaries who need to be confirmed, the Liberals will choose among themselves who will do all those jobs and then vote themselves in.  Trudeau as Prime Minister will have more relative power than Barak Obama.  

Given that, it might have been an election that our media might have covered a little bit?  

Of course, the people who own and support our public and private media have little interest in giving a stage to people arguing over what kind of national health care to have, if they should be part of the US military actions around the world or if we should still pump oil.  The US media serves a US system that does not respect the national sovereignty of any nation other than those fighting against our enemy of the day, so why talk about a people in North America who want Independence?  It does not fit in the mold.  Maybe the Canadian election was "not news" here because there was nobody willing to pay for it being news.  That and our endless superiority complex that others call chauvinism but we call "exceptionalism".  

With everything I just said bad about the Canadian election and its electoral system, it still have five parties instead of 2 and they all get seats in Parliament and the coverage was more about issues, the burka BS notwithstanding, than any of the clown act by Donald Trump or the shallow symbolism of Hillary Clinton.  

Not that Justin Trudeau is not a lot like Hillary Clinton.   
And in case our media, including the media that claims to be progressive and inclusive, decides to pay any attention to those charming little people up north, the coverage could be about the environment, oil and other exploitations going on in the great north, native rights as we discover more and more of the wrong people living on top of the desired assets, and social reforms wanted by working people, natives peoples and French speaking peoples.  

The next round of provincial and local elections will be important as was the recent election of a "majority" social democratic provincial government in tar sands producer Alberta with 41% of the vote where the Conservatives thought they had their oil interest backers well protected.  

41% of the people of Alberta may have done more to stop those pipelines than anyone else in North America. Maybe we should listen?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

We should manage our East Bay wild lands with controlled burns.

The Oakland Hills are in a 'fire ecology' biome. 
 
The brush and trees that grow here are adapted to fires that come on a mostly 3-7 year interval. 
 
Natural fires are mild enough not to kill our trees and plants, as they burn away the small buildup of dead underwood and then go out. Many of our native plants require such fire to open their seed pods. Fire season is normally followed by mild rains that germinate those seeds and soak the ash into the soil. 

 That is the natural ecology of a lot of California coastal hills, including ours. 

  I cannot imagine a harder thing to sell politically to the people of the Oakland Hills than to intentionally set a wild fire. But that is exactly how to keep us from having another big fire and how to manage what grows in these parks. 

  Right now Oakland is caught up debating between two really bad ideas. 

  This East Bay Express article will get one quickly to the source materials and to the different views folk have been expressing. 
  http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2015/03/05/fema-approves-funds-to-thin-trees-in-east-bay-hills-rather-than-clear-cutting

The official plan from FEMA, which is to cut out the eucalyptus and spray their stumps with herbicides is to continue the same kind of forestry practices that have caused so many disasters in recent decades, including the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. We will either end up with barren hills or a delayed disaster, or both after soil erosion, flash flooding and becoming too dry too quickly after rainy seasons. If followed and successful. the FEMA plan would give us an even more unhealthy watershed. That is the exact opposite of what we will need to handle climate change. We want more biomass and more water retention, not less. 

  The anti-plan most proposed does not include the herbicides and conserves bio mass, but it does not get us back to a managed forest that will survive a controlled burn, or a naturally occurring fire, without turning into an inferno. 

  Cutting out the eucalyptus is something we probably have to do eventually, at least in part. Eucalyptus is adapted to having different kinds of plants populate its biome back home in Australia where they have different weather and kinds of fires. Our natural plant cover is made of things like redwood, oak, madrone, manzanita, etc, that does not grow well together with eucalyptus. There is also an issue with what eucalyptus does to soils and how that affects the other needed ground cover. But it is not the most urgent issue. 

  The most urgent issue is the buildup of fuel that turns a light fire into a raging fire that will kill the trees, destroy the bushes and their seed and leave a dead zone. We have many square miles of California that look like the moon because by the time it burned, it burned hot enough to kill everything, even the worms.

The second most urgent problem is the lack of that native, fire ecology, underbrush so critical in controlling soil erosion and balancing soil nutrients. Our hills have suffered high temperature fires but before that they suffered cattle grazing. Both caused a lot of damage and much of the normal fire ecology bushes don’t grow here anymore in healthy numbers. For the seed pods to open and give us re seeding, the plants have to be growing there in the first place. Now they need to be restored to the area.

A realistic scenario would be to transplant in native, fire zone species, remove the fuel buildup, remove some of the eucalyptus more likely to burn or damage soils and then, when ready, do small controlled burns in segments. For it to work, it has to be done in fire season, and that requires serious preparation. 

  It would be costly and take years to do, but we would replace the failed forest management practices of our period with the fire management methods that the original native Californians used for centuries.

Eventually we would have a green belt that we could manage with controlled burns and no drama. Plants and trees not able to handle our natural fire cycles would get selected against and that would decide the fate of the eucalyptus and other immigrants on the long term. 

   We could cut out a lot of the drama with better building codes too. Why are we permitting homes to be built out of firewood in a fire zone with kindling for roofing materials? When this was Mexico, they built with adobe and had tile roofs. Ever hear of them burning down from blowing sparks? In the San Diego area a preponderance of homes have done a more modern version of those tile roofs. There is no reason to have the most affluent residents of our area live adjacent to a fire zone in homes made of two by four’s and plywood. A MAJOR opportunity was missed during the rebuild following the fire but a slow transition to fireproof materials is still very feasible. Some building code changes have already taken place and some rules about keeping the area around homes clear have made some progress. There is no reason not to have fireproof buildings next to the fire danger areas. 

  So I am saying that the Plan is OK as long as we get it through our heads that for our open spaces to be healthy and safe, we got to burn them down from time to time. 

  And the herbicides just have to go. They are plant poison and plant poison has no place in forestry management. It is intentionally polluting our soils and damaging the local ecosystem causing long term damage for short term gain. Established habits are hard to break especially when they cost less. But just as the fire fighting has caused these mega fires due to the buildup of fuel, herbicides cause problems that will haunt us and come back to bite us.

In forestry management we deal with communities of plants, fungus, and all kinds of bugs, birds, mammals, worms and more, living in a web, providing habitat and nutrients to one another. There are so many of them, we usually have no idea what they all are. Often restoration involves just moving whole squares of plants with their soil in the hope that we get a wide range of species to repopulate the gaps we do not even know exist. 

  Problem one with the plant poisons, is that we have no idea how much the kill, what they kill, how much they damage or what the changes are to the community of plants, fungus and animals after they are sprayed. All we are sure about is that things never come back the same. Herbicide today usually means soil erosion and poor growth later, never being sure of what you might be missing.

“The Plan” calls for small amounts of herbicide directly onto the trunks of the cut eucalyptus to make sure that they will not grow back. That sounds reasonable until you calculate in the contamination of the decomposition process. 

 If we have the regular controlled burns, the fire will scale back what is not adapted for this area. That may well mean that the eucalyptus would not grow back, especially if we have planted more appropriate trees and shrubs to hold that ecological niche. 

  Problem two, is when you spray with plant poison, the plants that can resist the poisons grow in number and size. You may also invite in genetically modified organisms. What? GMO's here? Yep. Take for example the Roundup Ready gene from Monsanto. It makes corn resistant to Roundup as you spray this poison onto the weeds in the fields. Since the Roundup Ready corn hit the market we have discovered that plants, such as those weeds, can aquire genetic material from another species, such as Roundup Ready corn. So now we have Roundup Ready weeds. It is a form or living genetic pollution and it is spreading around. We are all just hoping that this gene will not cause more problems as it becomes a part of the general environment. Where would the GMO's and other herbicide resistant plants come from? Our yards and gardens. Urban landscaping is some of the most polluted land in the world when you add up the fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, invasive species and GMO's. We already find a lot of our open "natural" spaces covered in ivy and other yard plants. Increase the use of herbicides and more herbicide resistant species will migrate in. Herbicide creates an ecological void.  Do we want the plants that will fill it?


  The idea of adapting to the natural fire cycles and nurturing a full range plant and tree forest community is not new and is well founded in science. 

 The national forest services and most state forest agencies have run tests and are changing their practices. 

  The East Bay should join the fire forestry management movement.