Berkeley: Late Winter Weather and Bud News

buds022611.jpgThis morning and tomorrow morning: probably the two coldest mornings of the winter here. It was 34 at our house early today, and looks like we’re headed there again tomorrow. (Here’s the National Weather Service’s summary of record lows set this morning. Berkeley’s all-time low for Feb. 26, recorded at a station on campus, is 34, according to the Western Regional Climate Center’s statistics.

By early afternoon, we were up in the high 40s. Beautiful cumulus-filled sky. I noticed the buds on the maple tree next store just as we got in the car to drive to the South Bay.

Journal of Self-Promotion: TV Edition

KQED-Channel 9 has a long-running news discussion show called “This Week in Northern California.” The producers asked me on the show last night to talk about some recent developments in California water policy (I can hear the surge of adrenaline out there in blogland). You’ll notice that the still for the video captures me in mid-jabber. Unfortunate. But here it is anyway:

Tough Love, 14th Century Style

We have alluded before in this space to the conundrum of living in a community where–well, where you get hit up for spare change or are otherwise wheedled and baited as part of some impromptu street-based money-raising scheme. We have quoted Walt Whitman's injunction "give alms to all who ask." And we have watched as our town and nearby cities have adopted laws–for instance, San Francisco's "Sit-Lie Ordinance"–that are supposed to address the issue.

In researching another topic just now, I found that England's King Edward III dealt with panhandlers, too. Here's a section of a decree handed down in 1351 to deal with the impact of the Black Death that had recently swept the kingdom:

"… Because many strong beggars, as long as they may live by begging, do refuse to labor, giving themselves to idleness and vice, and sometimes to theft and other abominations; none upon the said pain of imprisonment, shall, under the color of pity or alms, give anything to such, who are able to labor, or presume to favor them in their idleness, so that thereby they may be compelled to labor for their necessary living."

I like the phrase "under the color of pity or alms." Mustn't give sway to those kinds of feelings or predilections.

(And what could this possibly have to do with the Black Death? Well, England was facing a severe labor shortage after the plague, and the king was answering demands to find able-bodied workers. The same proclamation also prohibited laborers, who found themselves in a sellers' market, from demanding higher wages for their work; that prohibition is said to have become the Common Law precedent for blocking formation of labor unions in the United States up through 1840.)

Busman’s Holiday

So on a widely celebrated holiday a couple months ago, I got a special gift from my family: a very cool little audio recorder. This was in recognition, I think, that: 1) I’m a swell guy, 2) my journalistic endeavors now involve working with sound, and 3) that I put this item on my Amazon wish list.

This morning, my little recorder had an on-air debut of sorts. I went up to the Cal baseball double-header yesterday to try to talk to people about the university’s decision to eliminate the team next year. (Digression: The university has deepening budget problems as its state resources dwindle. Tuition has gone up 44 percent over the last three years to make up part of the gap, and the administration wants to reduce the deficit in the intercollegiate athletics program as part of a workable long-term budget. All that makes sense to people. What has made less sense, or at least is much less understood among the Old Blue community, is the process by which UC-Berkeley decided last fall to end baseball, rugby, men’s and women’s gymnastics, and women’s lacrosse, then reinstate all but baseball and men’s gymnastics (for a taste of the frustration with these decisions, check out this post from my KQED colleague Jon Brooks). The politics is complex, and involves both the university’s handling of potential sports donor and its obligations under Title IX, the federal law that prescribes gender equity in education programs. But even if one buys the official rationale, one might feel a certain disconnect from reality when watching the baseball team take the field. It’s ranked 17th in the country and provided an opening-day gift for fans by sweeping its two games against Utah yesterday–taking the nightcap with a four-run rally in fading daylight in the bottom of the ninth. End of digression.)

Where were we? I went up and did some interviews and recorded some game sound at Evans Diamond. Then I came home, fired up the never-used-before sound editor I bought earlier in the day, Hindenburg (this one, not this one). I transferred my audio to the computer, eventually figured out how to edit it, wrote a script that incorporated the sound I’d chose (this was a “cut and script,” a piece in which an anchor reads tracks around soundbites), did a quick edit with one of the other news folks, then uploaded everything to an FTP server to be downloaded for use this morning.

The final product is here (second item in the newscast).

Ephemeral Stream


In the big book of seasons, the last three months is supposed to be one season. It feels like three.

Late November and all of December, it was winter here in our coastal lowlands. Meaning: wet. Consistently, almost insistently rainy.

Climate folks warned it might not last: This is a La NiƱa winter, and the tap could be turned off just like that. And come the first of the year, it was. It stayed dry, bone-dry almost, for virtually all of January and the first half of February. I’ve infuriated Easterners and Midwesterners by mentioning how warm it got during part of that inter-rain-num, so I won’t talk about that again.

Last weekend: Clear and cool, with rain forecast to return Monday. The weather changed on scheduled, and we got a good six-day dousing. In the Sierra, huge snow, just like December. Along our street, with its 22-year-old pavement slowly going to gravel, we have our ephemeral stream running down the gutter again.

Ephemeral Geyser


Slideshow (34 shots)

Our principal diversion on a cold, drippy Saturday: A water main broke up on McGee Avenue at Buena Avenue, a couple blocks from our house. We were on our way back from a walk with The Dog and saw an unusual amount of water washing down the gutters on Buena and around the corner down California Street and decided to investigate. Just uphill from McGee and Buena, water was pouring through a heaved-up section of pavement. It seemed to be worsening slowly, and after 10 minutes or was fountaining about four feet into the air. We took some pictures, talked to some friends in the neighborhood who were taking in the scene, then walked back home.

As I sat down to look at the pictures, my friend Bruce, who lives a couple doors up from the break, called. He said I needed to get back up there–the water was shooting 80 feet into the air. Kate and I ran back up the street. This was the scene looking up McGee. The water was jetting into the air onto and over a house owned by well-known Berkeley artist David Lance Goines. The volume of water was enough that it caused a flood in his backyard, and he was overheard to say that at least a little water was getting into his home. A couple dozen neighbors gathered to watch the show.

Firefighters on the scene monitored the break while they waited for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, our water provider, to dispatch a crew. One of the firefighters told me they could shut down the flow of water, but wouldn’t as long as it didn’t seem to be a threat; it might help EBMUD diagnose the break if they saw the water flowing, he said. But when the flow broke loose, the firefighters got busy trying to close valves up and down the street. They eventually managed to limit the flow to about a 10-foot column that slopped onto the sidewalk. As soon as they did that, a single EBMUD employee showed up (an hour and 12 minutes after I began taking pictures, by which time the utility had already been alerted). The water guy knew what he was doing. It took him nine minutes to shut down the geyser).


Update: After the geyser was shut down, I heard one of the firefighters ask the EBMUD guy, “Do you know how old the main is?” “Yeah, I know–it’s older than you. It’s older than you, and you’d have to be born before 1910 to be older than it.” My friend Bruce, who says his house was built in 1905, said the main must be at least that old. He’s lived there since the late ’70s, and said that when he’d moved in, an older man rooming next door talked about growing up on the block back when the first houses were built there. Buena Avenue was a cow path, Bruce recalled the man saying, and “Farmer McGee,” for whom McGee Avenue is named, used to drive cattle to pasture down to the west.


After dark, I went out an took a look at what the EBMUD crew was doing. Bruce and a friend were watching the proceedings. They said there had been an oval-shaped hole in the main not much bigger than two hands held together. That was a pretty impressive show of what water under pressure can do when forced out of a small opening (hydraulic mining, anyone?).


I heard one other story about the day: Kate was standing in the gaggle of neighbors that came to watch the geyser. A woman who lives a couple doors down Buena related how she had been out walking her dog when she noticed water bubbling through the pavement in front of David Goines house at Buena and McGee. His car was parked right where the water was percolating up. She knocked on his door and told him he might want to move his car. He did.

Day at the Beach

Below: a slideshow of an afternoon up at Point Reyes (on the Pierce Point Road and at Kehoe Beach, to be more specific). It was utterly gorgeous on the strand, which looked like you could walk it all day and never reach the end. (And by way of explanation, we went out there with our neighbors and friends, Jill and Piero Martinucci, who you see in some of the pictures.)

170 Million Americans: Speak Up


OK — so I’m going to be a shill for a minute here: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Public Broadcasting Service (which you may know as “public TV” or “Masterpiece Theatre”), National Public Radio, and local public TV and public radio stations across the country are campaigning to turn back an attempt in Congress to cut public media funding. The move is part of a much larger effort to reduce government spending.

The public media response is called 170 Million Americans. That’s the number of people the CPB says watch public TV, listen to public radio, and use public media digital services each month. That’s a lot of people, more than half of the U.S.A. Public media people–I’m one, as it happens–are urging friends, family, coworkers, passers-by, and complete strangers to let their folks in Congress know how they feel if they value the service we deliver. So consider yourself urged if you’ve read this far. Here’s where to go online if you’re inclined to take action. And if you’re wondering, here’s how public media funding works.

Fuller disclosure: Yes, I work for a public broadcaster, KQED in San Francisco. And I’m responding in part to a call to action from by company’s CEO, and in part to a comment from a usually well-informed friend who said he “wasn’t worried” about the CPB cuts because public financing isn’t all that much of the corporation’s budget. In the case of KQED, we get about $5 million a year in federal support. That’s about 8.5 percent of the company’s annual budget. If you run a business or pay close attention to your household finances, think about what kind of hit that would be. Some public broadcasters–those in smaller markets and rural areas–reportedly get 30 to 50 percent of their funding through federal support. For them, this becomes a life-and-death matter, and for their audiences, it’s a matter of having continued access to a source of diverse news, information, and entertainment programming.

(Click on image for larger version of poster, which has a kind of goofy reference to The Count from “Sesame Street.”)

Uprising, Meet Moon Rising


Nothing helps you relax after a long, hard week in the newsroom quite like another newsroom’s misfortune. The above is from a live shot KTVU-Channel 2 was doing in San Francisco’s U.N. Plaza tonight after a rally by supporters of the Egyptian uprising. The reporter, Amber Lee, was just wrapping up after a tape report when a passer-by dropped trow. In the moments following this shot, her camera operator tried to move to get this full moon out of the frame. He/she couldn’t quite do it.

As KTVU News likes to say, “Only on 2.”

Update: My friend Pete points out in the comments that KTVU still has the video of the report online. Watch for the last five seconds or so.:

Berkeley Weather: High and Low

It’s a little after midnight on February 6. We just walked home from downtown Berkeley with our friends Piero and Jill. It’s warm out. The entirely unofficial reading at our house is 65.1 degrees–up a fraction of a degree in the last half-hour. A UC-Berkeley weather station downtown records 67.8 right now, and most temperatures in the area right now are in the mid 60s up to 70.

The record high for this date in Berkeley, according to data from the Western Regional Climate Centter, is 71, set in 1987. The record high minimum–the highest low for this date–is 55, set in 1963. Hard to judge where we’ll wind up at dawn, but I’d say we have a good shot of setting a new “highest low” record.

Our average high and low for the 6th of February: 59 and 45.

Update (1:30 p.m.): The overnight low at UC-Berkeley’s downtown weather station was 63.6 degrees, recorded at 8:17 a.m. The official station is on campus near McCone Hall, but even given the fact the downtown location appears to be in a warmer spot than the official one, it’s safe to bet the all-time “highest low” record was broken this morning. And high temperature records for the date are being rewritten everywhere around the bay, too. Here’s a map (from the University of Utah’s MesoWest service) and a record summary (from the National Weather Service in Monterey).