Native grass eradication program

From the Daily Breeze, our local paper, comes this "interesting" article. Apparently, all you have to do to remove native grasses is to complain that they are ugly and obscure the views from benches. The whole idea is so ludicrous that I have to quote the article in its entirety.

Original Article

Originally published Monday, June 26, 2006
Updated Monday, June 26, 2006

Some want to weed out this grass in San Pedro
A letter saying the waterfront promenade's greenery "looks ugly" piqued the attention of port officials, who plan to address the issue this week. Public opinion is invited.
By Donna Littlejohn
Daily Breeze

Is it native grass? Or just a bunch of weeds?

You decide.

It's the latest debate over San Pedro's waterfront promenade as the California native grasses originally planted along the Harbor Boulevard promenade are reaching new heights this summer.

Designers went with the tall native landscaping -- bearing exotic names like monkey grass and blue-eyed grass -- because it was a natural look that required little water and upkeep.

But critics think it all needs a good weed whacking.

"It looks ugly," said Bob Rapp of Wilmington, a retired mail carrier who comes to San Pedro's coast every morning to walk. "Don't those harbor commissioners ever look at the thing? Maybe they should go to the Grinder (across the street) and take a look."

As it turns out, he may have a point.

Port officials say they are indeed taking a fresh look at the natural landscaping after Rapp's letter to the editor criticizing the grass earlier this month in the Daily Breeze.

At first, said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz, she was amused to read Rapp's June 14 letter taking the port to task for its "cheap, unattractive, low-maintenance clump grass."

"It's a disgrace to the beauty of the San Pedro Harbor," he wrote.

The native grass, of course, is supposed to be tall, allowed to grow and wave unfettered in the coastal breeze.

But just as a test, she decided to take a few senior port staffers out to the promenade for an informal poll.

"They were unanimous that it looked like weeds," Knatz said.

Tall native grasses work well, she said, in settings such as Cape Cod, Mass., where the grass is interspersed with rolling sand dunes. But in an industrial area such as the Port of Los Angeles?

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn thinks not.

"I've always hated that," Hahn said when asked about the tall grass.

"The reason for the promenade is to give people access to the water, and some of that grass grows so high that if you're sitting on the benches all you see is a wall of native grass -- if that's what you want to call it. I think they're weeds."

She'd rather see lawn space that people can walk and sit on.

The native grass runs along the 1-mile promenade on Harbor Boulevard from Swinford to Fifth streets.

Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the topic from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday when the port holds a workshop on interim waterfront improvements, including landscaping. The meeting will be in the Madeo Room of the Marina Hotel, 2800 Via Cabrillo Marina in San Pedro. For more information, call 310-732-3567 or go to www.portoflosangeles.org.

As for Rapp, he thinks the native grass is ruining what could be a beautiful promenade.

"Could you take a picture postcard of that?" Rapp said. "They should bring in a reputable landscaping firm, put some grass in there, maybe some flowers."

Barring that, he said, maybe this is a job for San Pedro's goats.


Weed worker's handbook

If you want to repopulate with native plants you have to remove the invasive exotics first. These exotics, the true "weeds" of California include things like scotch broom and many plants that we've come to associate with California such as fennel and mustard. These exotic weeds overrun our slow-growing natives and reduce the habitat that they provide to our dwindling native fauna. Sometimes it's hard to rationalize these plants as weeds because they seem so Californian, but that's only because we see native grasslands so rarely.

Caltrans has invested significant money exotic eradication, since they recognize the value of native plants for soil retention (for instance because of native grasses deep roots), lower fire hazard (because of less explosive spring growth and subseqeuent dieback), easy maintenance (once established without competing exotics of course), and low water requirements (again, once established). However, despite trying several methods of native plant cultivation, a joint UC Davis / Caltrans pilot effort along I-505 has utterly failed. People with an axe to grind, might believe that this failure suggests a cost of $8.8 million per acre to successfully restore a roadside to native plants.

Caltrans necessarily wants to focus on automated propogation of natives, so they aren't much into weeding. Fortunately, individuals who might want to make a difference on their own land or in smaller restoration efforts can put effort into weeding and there is an official publication to tell you how. The Weed Worker's Handbook is that handbook. It's targetted towards northern California exotic weeds, but there's plenty of good advice in there for us southern California dwellers.


Grilled Polenta

Dinner is usually a basic thing, mid week. Today was different, however, as it was the eve of the last day of school. We had a pork loin, rubbed with ancho chile, sage, garlic, salt and pepper and marinated in cider vinegar and citrus juice.

We also tried grilled polenta, and I think I'll have to do it again. Jeanine introduced me to gourmet polenta: select corn, stone ground at small, family-run mills. That's the best to use - you can taste the difference. Tonight's was Trader Joe's Organic polenta in a tube. Not to fear, however, once sliced, drizzled with a bit of olive oil, dressed with salt and pepper and grilled over red hot coals for 10 minutes or so, it wasn't half bad. We tried it like bruschetta al pomodoro with tomatoes fresh from the vine, but I think I prefer it with just a little of the dry spice rub from the pork.


The Story of Money

_The Story of Money_ is the title of a comic book that my son brought home from school the other day. Fearing something like _Lighthouse_ I quickly confiscated it for inspection purposes. First I was happy because it looked educationally worthwhile. Then I was dismayed because the back page has a glossary with words like fungibility and reserve requirements - clearly too much for a 2nd grader. Then I was even more dismayed as I started to read - the colors are rather lurid, the overdrawn pictures, the protagonist complete with bad bowl cut, and dialog like, "So, barter is time-consuming; in fact it's prohibitively time-consuming." I finally came around to happy again because: 1. It's full of bad puns and campy humor, 2. It's educational, 3. My son was actually somewhat interested, 4. I was somewhat interested, 5. Fiscal Flash and Monetary Man (keep reading, this is a sequitur).

It turns out that the comic is published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, along with 11 other comic books!! Now you too can own _The Story of Monetary Policy_, _Once Upon a Dime_, and other childrens' classics.


Fiscal Flash and Monetary Man were my first exposure to the zany world of economics comics, back when I was a wee lad of 12 or so. My father used them one quarter to teach a short segment of Econ 101. We produced an audio track on cassette where I voiced the part of a trusty sidekick to Fiscal Flash. This accompanied 35mm slide projections of the comic book pages on the classroom wall. I'm sure that it would be frightfully embarrassing to hear myself today, but I think that the audio tape has gone the way of FF and MM themselves, who have disappeared so completely that they aren't even googleable.

West Coast Swing

I met my ex while partner dancing (west coast swing mainly, but also all the usual suspects: waltz, country two step, foxtrot, etc). Somewhere along the way I lost my passion for it, and I hadn't danced for a long time. However, recently I started taking dance lessons through a club at work, and they've fed a growing hunger for more dance. Family obligations are keeping my options limited for the moment to the one dance class, but google video and other services are stoking the fire. I've uploaded some good west coast swing found around the net to google video. The best example is linked below. I wish I danced this well.



I've been playing with the fonts on my blog, but can't seem to get my previous two posts to both have a nicely sized (and same sized) font. So if you are wondering why they are different sizes, the answer is that I don't know and though I've tried to fix it, I have as yet been unable to do so. Maybe my reader has a tip?


Early Father's Day

I had picked my son up earlier from his mother's house and we went to the beach to take in the early morning sights and smells. "Don't worry", his mother had said, "he was up sick all night but it looks like we're over the worst of it. He should be OK." He wasn't. We did have a nice short stay at the beach, but by the time we arrived back home he was feeling sick again. At the time he was just short of three years old and not clear on the signals that his body was sending him, so a direct hit into the toilet was only a fantasy of mine. We tried, but most of his food ended up on the carpet and spattered about the bathroom. As I tried to comfort him while keeping him focused on aiming into the toilet, I cursed the urge that had made me delve into the bathroom sink drain the night before. But there was no early warning system for projectile vomiting to let you know not to mess with the plumbing. So the bathroom sink was unusable since it drained to the floor.

I had planned a trip to Travel Town that day-- a place where there are old steam locomotives that you can climb all over. But now I was wishing desperately that I could snap my fingers and fix the bathroom sink. I should have expected the time of greatest need for the bathroom sink at the one time when it was out of commission. It was Murphy's Law, writ large in leaky and slow-draining old cast iron and brass. Chemical drain cleaners had been no use. The sink had been draining slower and slower and I had finally taken the trap off and tried to get a plumber's snake down the drain to unplug it. I had been unsuccessful the previous night until I gave up at 2AM, tired, blistered, and cut up about the knuckles.

The drain fittings I had taken off were so old, corroded, and bent out of shape that I couldn't get them back together without severe leaks, which is why I was running to the kitchen sink to rinse out the washcloth that I was using to clean up my son. My every trip to the kitchen was a trip of brief abandonment to him.

The hardware store is always a bonding experience between father and son, and so after the beach and before the vomit we had gone to buy new drain fittings. We'd walked around the large hardware store with a plastic juice pitcher at the ready to catch his barf, should he feel the need. No one there seemed to think it odd as I instructed him on how to use the pitcher-- it was Fathers Day, after all, a time for fathers to bond with their sons. We made it home cleanly with all new parts in heavy chromed brass.

Eventually my son napped, the worst of the mess was cleaned up, and I went back to trying to get the drain open with the plumber's snake. Drains grow this vile black goo that gets all over everything as you run the snake in and out: it covered my hands and arms and splashed onto every surface in sight. This is in addition to whatever noxious substances and smells you might imagine come from a drainpipe, not to mention the smell of remnant vomit. Suffice it to say that I felt almost, but not quite, covered in shit. I wrestled unsuccessfully with that plumber’s snake for a good 90 minutes and then I heard my son behind me. He leaned onto my aching back and breathed his vomit- and nap-smelling breath on my cheek as I wrestled one last time with the snake. I torqued it with frustration this way and that and finally pulled it out in disgust at my wasted effort. Lo and behold: on the end of the snake a small child's toy was skewered!! "Look at this!” I cried in my Eureka! voice. It was one of those things that little girls use to hold their hair back - two large yellow plastic flowers attached to each other by an elastic band. It had to have been there for years. We shared a few moments of victory that became even greater as I put the new drain pieces in place and verified that not only were there no leaks, but it drained very quickly.

This adventure in plumbing had awakened in me a dormant memory of watching my own father clean out the drains in an old house that we lived in when I was maybe a year or so older than my son. He too used a plumbers snake, got blisters, and banged up his knuckles. I probably leaned on his back, and breathed on his cheek, and I know that I thought he could fix anything wrong with the world, not just the plumbing. So I called him and tried to explain. I think he understood what I was trying to say: That the cross-generation bonding power of plumbing repairs with your son was stronger and more mystical than a phone call or a Hallmark card. That I relished being to my son what my father was to me. That I understood parenthood and childhood now from two different perspectives and that the understanding made life rich and flavorful. That the love for my father and for my son deepened and strengthened one another.

It was a good day for father-son bonding after all.


Breathing Treatment

My son suffers from occasional breathing issues, and he uses a nebulizer (sort of a medicated, face-mounted, humidfier for those who still remember going to sleep in a room full of Vicks-smelling steam) to get over them. We call it his "breathing treatment". One day he asks me, all serious-like, "Dad, why do they call it a treatment? It's not a treat and it's not a mint."

Since he was all of 3 or 4 at the time, I had no real answer for him, except to be highly amused.

Shortly thereafter he tells me from the back seat of the car, "When I grow up I want to be a pirate or a knight." He paused a moment, then added, "or a scientist," just to make sure I knew I wasn't excluded completely from his world. He sounded so angst-ridden as he then exclaimed, "The problem is that I don't know how to train to be a pirate!"