September/October 2008 issue

Lessons of the Martin Fire:
Ecology, Preparation & Restoration

Angela Bernheisel, Cal Fire
Rich Casale, Natural Resources Conservation Service

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008, 7:30 PM

Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room
Ice Cream Grade & Pine Flat Road

Fire in Bonny Doon: Ecology, Preparation, and Restoration

After innumerable meetings, of all sizes, sponsored by many varied community groups, is there anything left to say about fire in Bonny Doon? Yes! The RBDA's September general meeting will bring together several experts to talk about the context of fire in Bonny Doon, the lessons learned from the County's early season fires, and what residents can do to recover from “our” fire and prepare for the next one. The program is intended to tell us how we can simultaneously preserve our unique natural setting while protecting our community from fire.

Angela Bernheisel (nee Petersen) of Cal Fire and Rich Casale of the Natural Resources Conservation Service have agreed to speak and we have invited a representative of the California Fire Safe Council.

Bernheisel runs the Vegetation Management Program for the San Mateo & Santa Cruz counties unit of Cal Fire ( ) and is familiar to many of us as the go-to gal for Cal Fire's chipping and clearing assistance.

Casale is the District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) serving Santa Cruz County on the Central Coast of California ( He will show slides and provide information on both post-fire and pre-fire Dos and Don’ts and other valuable considerations regarding fire safe landscaping, soil and slope issues, NRCS services and site assessments, etc.

The California Fire Safe Council ( is a coalition of State and Federal agencies, fire departments, environmental organizations, insurance companies and other private and public organizations supporting local Fire Safe Councils. The mission of local Fire Safe Councils is to educate residents and landowners, to coordinate volunteer efforts, and to obtain grants in order to mobilize Californians to protect their homes, communities and environments from wildfire. The Pineridge neighborhood already has its own small Fire Safe Council. We hope that this meeting will raise awareness and help the Bonny Doon community reach the critical mass necessary to organize a broader Fire Safe Council covering the whole of Ben Lomond Mountain.

Aerial view of the Martin fire looking NW - photo by Jodi Frediani

UCSC Lawsuit: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

After two years of court proceedings and negotiations over UCSC's future growth plans, all existing lawsuits brought against UCSC by the City and County of Santa Cruz, the citizens group Coalition for Limiting University Expansion (CLUE), the Rural Bonny Doon Association, and 11 individual litigants have been settled. Significant concessions were won from UCSC that will help mitigate the impacts of UCSC growth in the areas of traffic and housing students on campus, and in providing for community input into future growth plans, particularly on the undeveloped Upper Campus. Still, this settlement falls short of the (near impossible) objective of eliminating the negative impacts of UCSC growth on our community and environment.

The State Constitution exempts UCSC from local land use regulations. The lawsuits charged that UCSC’s Environmental Impact Report for its 2005-2020 Long Range Development Plan violated CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act). Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick ruled that the EIR was inadequate in the areas of water, housing and traffic. The section on environmental impact mitigations was deemed to be CEQA compliant. Burdick ruled against CLUE in its contention that CEQA requires the Regents to do an EIR when deciding how much growth to assign to the 10 existing campuses, or whether to build a new one. If the court accepted this, it could have had a major impact on all UC campus growth plans, which several other host towns are chafing about.

Under community pressure before the lawsuits were even filed, UCSC cut back its expansion plans from 21,000 to 19,500 students by 2020. CLUE tried unsuccessfully to negotiate this figure lower, but it did get UCSC to house hundreds more of its new students on campus, and limit increased traffic to the main campus by nearly 2,000 trips. UCSC also agreed to use a variety of means, including ride sharing and more support for public transit, to further reduce traffic. Nonetheless, when you add in the thousands of new vehicle trips on the Westside that will come from UCSC’s expansion of its Marine Sciences campus at Terrace Point, its Ranch View Terrace housing project on campus, its facility on Delaware Avenue, the recently approved 2120 Delaware commercial/residential development, and an enlarged Safeway and New Leaf, it’s hard to imagine how bad traffic may eventually be on Mission Street and other Westside arteries.

The settlement also calls for 700-800 more students to be housed on campus than UCSC would have otherwise, but Santa Cruz’s meager housing stock will still be gobbled up by more students, making rents even less affordable.

On the brighter side, we are guardedly optimistic that UCSC now recognizes that there is strong community opposition to the problems caused by its growth, and that it will genuinely make more efforts than it ever has to mitigate the impacts of its growth. More importantly, the settlement agreement is a legally binding contract that will require UCSC, and the City, to make much greater efforts to improve roads and public transit and work to reduce student impacts on neighborhoods.

Ongoing Cemex Plant Mercury Monitoring

No question that mercury is scary. It's a neurotoxin: exposure can affect mental acuity and motor coordination. It isn't good for your kidneys—among other organs—either. Mercury exposure is especially a concern for children, whose developing nervous systems and brains are most vulnerable.

Emissions from burning coal contain mercury. (In fact, the effluent from burning fossil fuels, especially coal, is the largest source of atmospheric mercury.) Cement plants, which burn a lot of coal, produce substantial airborne emissions. So, finding out how much mercury the Cemex plant puts into the air and what level of exposure is safe is important for Davenport residents and, to a lesser extent, for Dooners.

The Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District (Air District), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA, a part of the EPA, California's toxics agency), are working on answers to these questions. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which started the testing, is very interested too.

First, the question about safe exposure levels. In an effort to protect children from any potential damage, the OEHHA has proposed revised standards for both acute exposure, which is the average amount of mercury found in the air during one hour "peak" periods and is used to measure exposure during extraordinary emission bursts, presumably when something goes wrong at the plant, and for long term exposure, which is the average over a year-long period. (In their cautious statistical language, the OEHHA is “reasonably confident” in both cases that the standard number, and anything below it, is “safe” for children.) The existing standard for acute exposure is 1800 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3); the soon-to-be-adopted standard is 600 ng/m3. The existing standard for long-term exposure is 90 ng/m3, the proposed one is 30 ng/m3, so the new standards will cut the allowable levels by two-thirds. Miriam Rotkin-Ellman of the NRDC's health staff comments that these new numbers incorporate the “latest science,” and are “a very positive step.”

Last summer, as part of its checking on cement plants, the NRDC recorded mercury levels in the Davenport air with a hand-held device and reported their findings to the Pacific School and to the Air District. Since the Air District doesn't own the very expensive equipment necessary for definitive testing, Ed Kendig, the Air District's Compliance Division Manager, asked the EPA to come and monitor the effluent from Davenport's Cemex plant.

The EPA trailer was parked outside the Pacific School last October and again, to capture summer winds which can push the exhaust stream to ground level, from May to mid-August. Kendig notes that the Cemex plant has had the most extensive testing of any in California.

As of press time, unfortunately, only raw data had been received from the EPA. In addition, the annual average for long-term exposure cannot include times when the Cemex plant isn't operating, and as yet the plant hasn't reported its down dates. Then the numbers must be analyzed. Meanwhile, on a very preliminary basis, Ed Kendig has shared some information.

While there are surely repeated spikes during the EPA testing period, the highest hourly (acute) average of mercury in the air was a little under 200 ng/m3,  and even the strongest burst didn't come close to the OEHHA's new, lower standard of 600 ng/m3.

The annual average calculated from the EPA's two-and-a-half month monitoring period is 3.5 ng/m3 , making it improbable that Davenport's long term mercury exposure level could approach the proposed OEHHA standard of 30 ng/m3.

Miriam Rotkin-Ellman points out there may be concerns beyond what the final, analyzed numbers bring out. For instance, the EPA's trailer remained stationary throughout the testing period. Although location near the elementary school is clearly desirable, could other places in Davenport, many of which have experienced more pungent odors during Cemex emission events, have reported higher peak readings?

Other questions remain, too. How long does ingested mercury remain in a human body? What happens to mercury released into the air? Likely deposits  include dust and sediments, and mercury has been found in Davenport soils, more downwind than upwind, as you'd expect. The levels measured do not pose a hazard for humans to handle, but what happens when winter rains flush mercury into the ocean, and fish absorb them?

When the raw data have been analyzed, the Air District will present the findings to the North Coast Association and the Cemex Citizens' Committee. We'll make sure that Dooners are informed, so that all of us can attend these events. And ask questions.

Board Nominations Coming

It’s time to consider nominations for membership to the RBDA Executive Board for four positions that expire this January. Board members Ted Benhari, Jodi Frediani, and Tom Hearn’s terms will all be up,  as will the position that Yana Jacobs vacated that has been temporarily filled by Miriam Beames through Board appointment. As per the Bylaws, the board appoints people to vacancies created until the next annual election, which takes place at our January meeting.

The Board was delighted that Miriam agreed to help out. She served so capably on the Board from 1998-2004, and since then has remained active in Bonny Doon affairs, including the RBDA Nominating Committee and the Eco Reserve.

The Executive Board will appoint a committee of three or more persons to nominate candidates to the Board; the committee will present its nominations at the November General Meeting. Nominees to the Executive Board must have been a member in good standing as of November 1. Since the Bylaws state that membership becomes effective 30 days after an application is submitted and dues are paid, anyone wishing to run for the board must be a member or have submitted an application by October 1. Additional nominations will be accepted from the floor at the November meeting, after which nominations shall be closed.

The RBDA, which has protected the quality of life in Bonny Doon for 50 years, depends on people willing to serve on the Executive Board. If you are committed to our community and the RBDA mission of keeping Bonny Doon rural, please contact any of our Board members (see phone numbers below, or email us via the link at the bottom of this page) to discuss what’s involved.

Aerial view of the Martin fire looking out over Moon Rocks to the SE - photo by Jodi Frediani

Plans Begin for Future of Ecological Reserve

State Assemblyman John Laird convened a meeting on Aug. 12 to plan for the future of the Ecological Reserve. RBDA Board members Miriam Beames, Jodi Frediani and Jan Hilkert attended, along with Supervisor Neal Coonerty and representatives from the Dept. of Fish and Game, Cal Fire, PG&E, the Sheriff’s office, State Senator Joe Simitian’s office, the California Native Plant Society, the UCSC Arboretum, the Sierra Club’s Santa Cruz Group, Sandhills Alliance for Natural Diversity, the Nature Conservancy, the Santa Cruz County Resource Conservation District, and the Ecological Reserve Docent Program. Bonny Dooners Marilyn Hummel and Val Haley (both former RBDA board members) represented the Sierra Club and the Ecological Reserve Docent Program, respectively.

It was exciting to see the number of people concerned and involved, and it pointed up the many issues to be addressed and the need for coordination between the various groups. Discussions centered on trespassing, rebuilding the fencing, biological monitoring and research (including native plants and invasive species), habitat restoration, fire prevention and fire breaks, and funding for these projects. Many in attendance stressed the need to complete the Management Plan (still unfinished nearly 20 years after Fish & Game was donated the land by the Nature Conservancy), which should include a Fire Plan and Vegetation Management Plan.

Chuck Armor from Fish & Game requested input on how long the Reserve should remain closed. The consensus seemed to be the longer the better (until next spring possibly) to give the Reserve a chance to recover.

Five subcommittees were formed to address immediate, mid-range and long term needs: fencing, trespassing, biological monitoring and research, funding and fire suppression and recovery.

Flag saved from the Hellenthal Station - photo by Jodi Frediani

Hot Topic: Fire District Hearing Set for Sept. 22

At long last LAFCO will hold a public hearing on the Bonny Doon Fire Team’s application to separate from the Santa Cruz Fire Dept. and form its own district.

A petition signed by more than 60% of Bonny Doon voters was turned over to LAFCO, the Local Agency Formation Commission, nearly two years ago, asking it to consider the merits of the Fire Team’s proposal. At present our all-volunteer Fire Team works under the direction of the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), with which the County contracts to provide fire protection and emergency services in the unincorporated parts of the county that don’t have their own districts. Cal Fire operates four stations, the closest two in Felton and Swanton, but budgetary problems have forced staffing reductions this year.

The Fire Team says that formation of a Bonny Doon Fire District will achieve faster emergency response times, full-time staffing of a local station, better training, recruitment and retention of volunteers, and keep taxes paid by Bonny Doon property owners for fire protection here in Bonny Doon. County officials, on the other hand, are concerned that the loss of Bonny Doon tax money will harm fire and emergency services on the rest of the North Coast, which has a small tax base because it is sparsely populated and much of it is owned or will be soon by tax-exempt agencies like State Parks and the Bureau of Land Management.
LAFCO’s long-time executive director, Pat McCormick, will issue a public study of the situation a week to 10 days before the Sept. 22 hearing, which will run from 7 to 10 pm at the First Congregational Church at 900 High St. in Santa Cruz. The meeting is open to the public and comment is invited, both in written form before the hearing and at the meeting itself.

County Fire’s ongoing challenge to provide quality fire and emergency services has been under study by the County Administrator’s office and area fire officials for years, and various solutions have been suggested, including a redistricting that would require the independent districts like Felton and Boulder Creek to be responsible for their adjacent rural areas. In addition, the County Grand Jury recently criticized the way fire services are structured and overseen.

LAFCO has several options open to it, including: granting Bonny Doon its own district; recommending that a Bonny Doon/North Coast district be created; rearranging Cal Fire personnel and equipment to better serve Bonny Doon; or maintaining the status quo.

Any new district would still have to be approved by 2/3 of the property taxpayers who live in that district.

Fire fighters at the Command Center at the BD Airport - photo by Jodi Frediani

RBDA Board Meeting Agenda - 9/10/08
1. Approve minutes of May 14, 2008 meeting.
2. Featured Program: Fire in Bonny Doon: Ecology, Preparation, and Restoration, Rich Casale and Angela Bernheisel

RBDA Board Actions - 8/6/08

1. Miriam Beames was appointed to the Vice Chair position on the RBDA Board, to finish out Yana Jacobs’s term.
2.     Jodi Frediani, Miriam Beames and Jan Hilkert volunteered to attend the Aug. 12 meeting called by State Assemblyman John Laird, to discuss planning for the future of the Ecological Reserve. The Board authorized them to strongly recommend that the Dept. of Fish and Game finalize the Ecological Reserve Draft Management Plan, and that it include a Fire Plan, before habitat restoration and fire suppression work is begun.  RBDA will send letters to John Laird, Supervisor Neal Coonerty, State Senator Joe Simitian and Bill Monning, candidate for State Assembly, stating this position.
3. Voted to accept the settlement between UCSC and the County, the City of Santa Cruz, the RBDA and CLUE, regarding UCSC’s expansion plans.
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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 
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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
Miriam Beames
Joe Christy
Corresponding Secretary 
Jodi Frediani
Ben Harmon 
Recording Secretary
Jan Hilkert
Highlander Editor
Tom Hearn
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