July-August 2006 issue


Phone Line Upgrades Downgrade Service

The RBDA Board was concerned to hear the number of reports from residents about phone outages this past winter. Attendees at the June RBDA General Meeting heard from Jason House, a 10-year veteran of AT&T who is now Area Manager of Network Services for AT&T (formerly SBC), responsible for the past two years for an area that stretches from Davenport down to King City and from Hollister to Big Sur. He tried to answer our community’s questions and concerns about recent phone outages, but his answers just raised more concerns.

Over the last couple of years, AT&T has ‘upgraded’ their phone service in Bonny Doon to fiber optics, with the intended benefit of providing DSL and future digital services such as voice-over-IP. AT&T has been rolling out this fiber optic system statewide for the past 10 years.

Prior to the fiber optic system, power to the entire phone system was generated from a central source, which meant a power outage in Bonny Doon did not affect phone service. The new infrastructure, however, is dependent on powered relay stations or "pair gain" units that each draw power from local power lines. If local power goes out, a backup battery maintains phone service for up to eight hours. Then the phones go dead.  Anyone who has lived through even a few weeks of winter in Bonny Doon knows that eight hours of battery backup is a drop in the bucket. We heard reports of several Bonny Doon residents losing their phone service for multiple days this winter, one couple for 10 days.

It goes without saying that the loss of reliable phone service for a remote area like Bonny Doon, which has little cell phone reception, is a serious loss of connection to outside emergency services, especially during hazardous storm conditions.

House assured us that AT&T was committed to our community and understood that phone service equaled safety of life and property. He said they had a plan. When power goes out locally and battery backup comes on, an alarm goes off at headquarters (which turns out to be the Loop Surveillance Center in Illinois) and triggers a service response. AT&T has staff on call locally 24/7, 365 days a year, to respond to reported phone outages.

The plan is to send construction trucks equipped with generators to maintain power at any power gain unit that loses its eight-hour battery backup. In Bonny Doon, there are over 30 of these power gain units. House assured us that he had sufficient staff to cover this, and yes, they willing to sit in their trucks running generators for 72-plus hours if needed. It seems an unlikely scenario, but further inquiries with AT&T after the meeting revealed that in the territory House oversees, Bonny Doon and parts of Big Sur are unique in their vulnerability to power outages‹good news only in that we don’t have as much competition for their attention as originally feared.

Although House stated that he was personally aware of every phone outage in our area this winter, he looked genuinely surprised to hear the number of complaints about multi-day outages, in particular the 10-day outage reported by one couple attending the meeting.

When people complained about time on hold and difficulties using AT&T’s automated phone service to report and check on repair status, House offered his phone number as a direct contact for future phone outage problems (899-3158 or 521-2093).

The RBDA Board will republish that number in the November Highlander as well as continue to pursue this issue with House, AT&T, and the PUC as necessary.  As a first step, we need your input to determine the extent of the problem.  Did you experience a phone outage this winter due to a power outage (e.g., not due to phone lines down)? We’d love to hear from you. How long did the phone outage last? What was AT&T’s response time? Did they provide any generator backup for you?

Send us your story by email (see below for latest email address) or call Highlander editor Jane Cavanaugh at 469-3751.

Slipsliding Away

The RBDA Board made a formal request that the Board of Supervisors allocate necessary funds to repair roads in Bonny Doon, which suffered significant storm damage earlier this year. The County is eligible for $1 to $2 million dollars or more in state and federal disaster funds, according to John Presleigh, County Dept. of Public Works assistant director.

Empire Grade and Smith Grade, both main roads for Bonny Doon, need serious attention, but only the Empire Grade slippage in Cave Gulch is currently likely to be repaired this year. Smith Grade has two sections that are slipping out towards Majors Creek, which is a water supply stream for the City of Santa Cruz. Any massive bank and road failure will adversely impact the City’s water supply in this watershed. If not repaired prior to next winter, enough damage could occur to close Smith Grade a half-mile in from the Empire Grade end. Presleigh says that the County had slides on almost 70 roads this winter, and has to give priority to those where road closure would entrap residents. The County suffered $15 million in storm damage, but has less than $2 million in its own budget for repairs. FEMA will pay for up to 75% of repair costs, the County up to 15%, and the State will probably pay for the balance, he says.

The Cave Gulch problem on Empire Grade has been ongoing for years, if not decades, and a permanent fix will be expensive. The Federal Highway Administration may pay for these repairs, because Empire Grade is considered a major road. One irony is that if the Highway Administration decides this is a chronic slide area and the slippage isn’t just from storm damage, it will be ineligible for their funding, and the money will have to be found elsewhere. Another irony is that while FEMA will fund some of the other storm-damaged road repairs, it will only pay to restore a road, not for a fix which could prevent it from reoccurring.

Eco Reserve Fire Danger Brushed Off

Working diligently in the hot late spring sun, the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) and chainsaw crews from the adult correctional facility on Empire Grade cleared brush and trees from the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve in order to create a fuel break and reduce the danger of a wildland fire. Val Haley, the Bonny Doon botanist who has lead Eco Reserve volunteers to maintain and nurture the Reserve since its creation in 1989, spent many hours working ahead of the crews to mark the endangered and unique species that crews should leave in place.  The crews worked, as always, under the watchful eyes of a California Dept.  of Corrections officer. Due to the proximity of the work area to homes, CDC also requested that local residents be present to add extra security. Many thanks go out to the Bonny Doon volunteers who generously donated their time over the weeks the crews worked. We heard enthusiastic reports from some of these volunteers about how hard and fast the crews worked, and how much care and attention many of them put into the task. As the dense brush was cleared, crews took it upon themselves to flag and work around the endangered species that hadn’t been visible for Val to tag initially.  The community owes a huge thanks to Val and Angela Peterson of CDF, who played a big part in creating and shepherding the Vegetation Management Plan through the bureaucratic maze to obtain an $80,000 grant from the federal government to help pay for the work.

We have been very lucky in Bonny Doon that we haven’t had a significant wildland fire in nearly 60 years, but the danger is still very high. Some neighborhoods have organized to reduce the danger by creating breaks and removing downed wood, but many other neighborhoods have not. If you live in one of those, it would benefit all of us, you and your neighbors in particular, if you make the time and effort to do so.

Lockheed Says No to Water Testing

Lockheed Martin has declined a request by CCALM (Community Concerned About Lockheed Martin) to drill test wells to monitor ground water quality at their Bonny Doon facility at the end of Empire Grade. Lockheed continues to assert that there is nothing for local residents to worry about, although they have no records of disposal practices at the facility prior to 1984, leaving 26 years of missing information on waste disposal operations in effect before regulated mandatory environmental accountability.  In a recent letter to CCALM, Charles Manor, the Strategic Communications Director for Lockheed Martin stated, "As to your question related to test wells and waste disposal operations at [Bonny Doon], we feel confident that our historical knowledge of operations conducted at the facility, along with the types and amounts of materials that would have been needed to carry out those operations, obviate the need for additional test wells. However, in the highly improbable event that any of our neighbors have experienced any quality problems with their well water and you have firsthand knowledge of such an occurrence, would you please urge them to contact us directly so that we might assist them."

Among the chemicals that may have leached into the soil at the Bonny Doon site during the years of testing rocket engines is perchlorate, a rocket fuel oxidizer that interferes with normal thyroid functioning, particularly in fetuses and young children. In 2000, while Lockheed Martin successfully lobbied the federal Environmental Protection Agency to set high levels for acceptable perchlorate contamination, a group of San Bernardino County citizens suffering thyroid cancer and other disorders sued Lockheed Martin, asserting that perchlorate came into area water supplies from a now-closed plant.

Lockheed Martin’s refusal, or inability, to explicitly identify which chemicals might have been dumped in Bonny Doon, or to assume the responsibility for proactive test wells, leaves residents in the unfortunate position of having to wait for something bad to show up, or bear the burden of research and testing, which includes wading through the County Environmental Health Dept. 1,800-page Hazardous Materials Management Plan of possible chemicals Lockheed might have used, guessing what to test for, and paying for the tests themselves. After over three years of Lockheed Martin officials deftly answering while not really answering CCALM’s questions, it seems the only other hope is for a former employee to come forward and substantiate the long-standing rumors of toxic dumping at the site.

Sign Up for Better Emergency Protection

As you read this, residents throughout Bonny Doon are knocking on doors and holding meetings to gather signatures on petitions to create a Bonny Doon Fire District (BDFD). There are also petitions available for signing on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the McDermott Fire Station at the corner of Empire Grade at Felton Empire Grade/Ice Cream Grade. If no one has yet reached you to ask for your signature, you may go to the fire station to sign.  Creation of the new district is aimed at reducing emergency response times, gaining local control over how our taxes for emergency and fire protection services are spent, and improving training, recruitment and retention of our volunteer firefighters. Currently, the Bonny Doon Fire Team works under the direction of the Santa Cruz County Fire Dept., which contracts with the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) for services. Even if the new district is created, CDF would continue to be responsible for fighting wildland fires.

If 25% or more of the Bonny Doon voters sign the district formation petitions, they will be submitted to LAFCO, the Local Area Formation Commission, which will study the proposed district, hold a public hearing, and make a recommendation to the County Board of Supervisors, which must approve it. LAFCO can either recommend approving the district as submitted, reject it, or suggest changes, such as a revision of the proposed district boundaries.

If the Supervisors approve the new district, funding for it must be approved by Bonny Doon property taxpayers. Currently, approximately 6.75% of our property taxes go for emergency and fire protection services, and this won’t change. In addition, we also pay a special fire protection district tax, CSA 48, which now averages about $111 annually per property. If approved by a 2/3rds vote, CSA 48 will be replaced by a new district and somewhat higher tax levy,(the exact amount will be on the ballot), according to Tom Scully, Bonny Doon Fire Team board chairman. This will go to hire paid firefighters and improve services,  begin building a contingency fund for such things as new equipment, and pay a stipend to the volunteers, who currently receive nothing but the community’s gratitude for their invaluable and excellent service.

Supreme Court Chops Down Big Creek Suit

Just as we were going to press, the California Supreme Court decided against Big Creek Lumber Co. in its longstanding lawsuit to reverse a County ordinance that restricts logging and related helicopter operations‹to land zoned for Timber Production.

Big Creek’s suit has been dragging through the courts in the seven years since the County passed the ordinance. The decision affirms counties’ rights to decide where logging can take place, even though the State has control over how it may be done. The decision will have implications for logging operations throughout California.

New Watershed Concerns and Next Tour

Laguna & Majors Creeks have seen a major increase in dirt bike and mountain bike activities the past few months. Unauthorized recreational use, accessing trails leading into the undeveloped areas of Gray Whale/Wilder State Park from Smith Grade, has begun to affect topsoil and is eroding slopes leading into the watersheds. The areas being most affected by the increased off-road traffic are largely in the previously untouched areas north of Smith Grade. Permanent trails are quickly being established which cross upper watershed streams.

State Parks doesn’t have the facilities or personnel to monitor recreational use of the area. Development funding that would create a more sustainable trail system is not in the budget. Concerned community members will need to think about ways to work in this area with State Parks.  The summer cycle of dry weather conditions and slowly diminishing stream flows offer the community a chance to get out and learn how local creeks change with the season and continue their cycle of fostering local plants and animals. Come join the Watershed Council for the next field trip to the fresh water lagoon at Laguna Beach. Hikers will again be joined by a couple of biologists to explain the natural phenomenon of the summer season sand bars which dam Laguna Creek and create a unique salmon nursery in the expanding lagoon. The hike will leave on July 22 promptly at 10 a.m. from the parking lot on the north side of Highway 1 at Laguna Creek Road. For more information contact Ginger and Karl at 427-1034.

MAIL Service: How Low Can We Go?

Just when it seemed Bonny Doon mail service was making a comeback from its lowest levels (most noticeably with the addition of a former USPS employee as a contract carrier on one of the Empire Grade routes), arrests were made on mail theft charges for a substitute carrier on one of our contract routes. The RBDA Board has been in communication with Representative Anna Eshoo and Kim Fernandez, USPS District Manager, to express our community’s concerns about this latest incident.

Specifically, we have requested that USPS maintain the same standards for contract carriers and substitute carriers as they do for USPS carriers, requiring any person delivering mail, whether it be the primary contract carrier awarded the route or any substitute carrier they use, to have verification and background checks, plus USPS training and certification.  The current lax standards with regards to contract carriers leave our community to bear the burden of disrupted business, identity theft, actual theft, credit problems, and disrupted utility service as mail is stolen, lost, mis-delivered, or not delivered at all.

In response to a letter Eshoo sent on our behalf to Fernandez about the substitute carrier’s arrest, Fernandez stated that he will continue to "monitor the situation". To express your concerns directly to Fernandez, address them to United States Postal Service, Kim R. Fernandez, District Manager, 1675 7th Street, Oakland, CA, 94015-9967.

UCSC’s Troubles Accelerate

The shocking and sad suicide of UCSC Chancellor Denice Denton on June 24 leaves UCSC leaderless at a crucial crossroad, faced with a community increasingly united in opposition to its huge growth plans, undermined by a fractious faculty, attacked by student protesters, sued by neighborhood activists over environmental degradation, and tarred by media stories about Chancellor Denton’s expensive and frivolous home expenditures and the cushy job given to her domestic partner.

Hopefully, the UC Administration will look long and hard for a new UCSC leader with the skills to negotiate a mutually beneficial solution to the town-gown confrontation and the many other problems besetting the City on a Hill. The recent tragedy of Chancellor Denton’s suicide follows the scandal of her predecessor MRC Greenwood, who was forced to resign the number two position in the UC Administration, making the selection of the next UCSC chancellor especially critical.

Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz City Council is advancing a referendum slated for the November ballot that will demand UCSC pick up the tab for the infrastructure improvements required by the university’s growth. Even more important for Bonny Doon, the referendum directs the City to deny sewer and water services to the planned extension of the campus beyond the City limits into the Cave Gulch area of Bonny Doon.

RBDA Board Actions JUNE 7, 2006

1)    Send letter to USPS Supervisor Kim Fernandez and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo re mail
       carrier qualifications
2)    Send letter of congratulations to Neal Coonerty, 3rd District Supervisor-elect
3)    Cancel the July General Meeting

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The Highlander
The Rural Bonny Doon Association Newsletter
102 Sunlit Lane • Bonny Doon, CA 95060

Bonny Doon's voice in preserving our special quality of life, The Highlander, 
is mailed free to Bonny Doon residents prior to the RBDA General Meetings, 
which are usually held on second Wednesdays of 
January, March, May, July, September and November.
We encourage you to participate. 

 Send mail correspondence to the Highlander Editor at the above address, or by email, below.

    RBDA Executive Board 
Board Chair
Ted Benhari
Vice Chair
Andre LaFleur
Alec Webster
Corresponding Secretary 
Yana Jacobs
Ben Harmon 
Recording Secretary
Jodi Frediani
Highlander Editor
Jane Cavanaugh
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If you live in or own property within this district, roughly from Empire Grade to the ocean and from San Vicente Creek to the City of Santa Cruz border, you are eligible to be an RBDA member.

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