News From Our Semi-Intentional Menagerie

Monarch chrysalis, fastened to Ikea Strandmon armchair.

Briefly: We planted a bunch of milkweed this year in hopes of encouraging monarch butterflies to feed and reproduce. Among the lessons learned: There are lots of things out there in the world that will kill a monarch long before they have a chance to become butterflies. And when they get a chance to get to butterfly stage, the process is actually much more beautiful and absorbing than I had imagined.

Late in the season here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we noticed that the few adult monarchs around were accomplishing their reproductive mission more efficiently than they had been a few months ago. Maybe it was because most of the predators had gone underground for the year, but we were seeing more monarch larvae (aka caterpillars) than we had during the summer.

We brought a couple of well advanced caterpillars indoors and installed them in a butterfly house we’ve used several times this year. Kate, the chief wrangler of our semi-intentional menageries, named the larger of the new inmates Latelyton — that’s Lately and -ton — because of its appearance so late in the year.

It wasn’t long before Latelyton found his or her way out of the butterfly house. Where he/she had gone we had no idea. Monarchs that are ready to go into their chrysalids have a way of seeking an out of the way spot where they can attach themselves, so their odd, intense twisting dance to enclose themselves, and hang there in piece until they are ready to eclose (emerge, in insect talk).

We figured we’d see Latelyton after s/he emerged. I imagined a new butterfly flapping desperately to get outside to go about its natural calling. But it typically takes 12 to 14 days for a monarch to eclose, and as of yesterday, it had been three weeks with no sign of the wayward larva/pupa.

That was until Kate was vacuuming around an upholstered Ikea armchair. As she described it, she saw something dangling from one of the chair’s arms. It was, we are sure, Latelyton, in a perfect chrysalis. S/he does not look close to emerging, but what do we know? Maybe we’ll have on overwintering visitor. In any case, we’re letting him/her be. I’m hoping this monarch will at least wait until we get past our current predicted run of rainy, cold weather before it makes its next move.

The World of Dog Poop: Requests, Entreaties, Demands

Directions for cleaning up after your stylized dog, outside the city of Nagoya, Japan.

In our Berkeley dog-walking days (2006-18), I often considered the ethical and practical dimensions of dealing with canine excrement. It turns out lots of other people do, too, as evidenced by the advice posted – for free! – I see during my urban strolls.

Above is one I saw in Japan earlier this week. It made me wonder how many of these I’ve recorded over the years. The answer isn’t astronomical – 20 or so, after a quick look through my Flickr camera roll. Most are from Berkeley, but a handful come from elsewhere in the U.S. – San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City – with a few entries from Japan and Italy.

The Flickr album is below. If you’ve got a shot for me to add, send it my way.

Canine Advisories

A House Up the Street

It sold for $550,000 in 2003. It sold for $985,000 in 2015. In 2019, after a small addition was added, it sold for $2,050,000.

You may have heard that the Bay Area real estate market has veered into the crazy zone and the nutty rices that buyers are shelling out for shelter. Not too long ago, that seemed like something happening far away — maybe down in Palo Alto, the cradle of Silicon Valley and all its wealth, where we used to hear stories about modest old bungalows being purchased for millions just to be knocked down and replaced by something grand, or at least big.

Well, the irrationality — I won’t try to diagnose the causes right now, or comment on the unsustainability or the fact it has made my own neighborhood neither we nor our kids could possibly afford if we were buying now — has shown up right on our street. We’ve lived here since the late ’80s after a house turned up that owners were selling in “as-is” condition and we were able to scrape up a down payment with help from my parents and my wife’s employer. I can’t tell you how lucky we felt to be able to do it.

Late in 2017, a house that had been in the same family for more than half a century went on the market. The specifics: two bedrooms, one bath, a little under 1,300 square feet. A relative of the elderly owners, who had passed away, traveled back and forth from Southern California to update the house, which looked nice when the “for sale” sign went up.

The asking price: $875,000. Now, it’s understood that in this market that figure was a fiction, one meant to attract attention and leave plenty of room for the price to be bid up. Friends who long ago lived on the street were interested because their daughter was looking for a place. They have some resources, but were not optimistic that they’d win the bidding war, which they were certain would go well over $1 million. As a last resort, they wrote a letter to the sellers about their past connection to the street.

I’ll bet it was a nice letter, but they needn’t have bothered. The little bungalow sold for $1,650,000 . Nearly double the asking price and well beyond the offer they stretched themselves to make.

Once you’ve seen that happen, it’s not surprising when it happens again. And since early last year, sales in the $1.5 million range have become commonplace in the surrounding neighborhood. Not that that’s the limit: Earlier this year, a nicely redone home a couple blocks from us — four bedrooms, three baths — sold for $2.8 million. The agent sent a flyer around after the sale that bragged the home had attracted five all-cash offers — including the eventual buyer — that were over the $1.8 million asking price. (Did I bury the lede there? The house sold for $1 million over that original price, which today is better thought of as a reserve price, a minimum acceptable bid in what is understood to be an auction).

And this keeps happening. A month or so ago, another home on our street — next door to the one that sold last year for $1.6-million plus. I found the sales history: In 2003, the long-time owners sold the home, which was then probably two bedrooms and one bath, for $550,000. I’m guessing they felt they made out all right on the deal.

In 2015, the house, which I believe was at least modernized by the interim owners, sold for $985,000. High, perhaps, but in the current situation not insane-sounding. The new buyers added a 500-square-foot addition — a master bedroom and full bath — and remodeled the kitchen. A couple of months ago we ran into the owners, who still seemed like newcomers to the neighborhood, on what happened to be their last night in the house before they moved to Copenhagen.

The house was staged for the sale, the sign was posted out front, and I believe the bidding began at $1,395,000. How high did it go? The sale became official just yesterday. The price was $2,050,000.

As it happens, I crossed paths yesterday morning with a real estate agent who was putting up a sign for an open house. I said hi, and he responded with a bright, “Want to buy a house?”

“Ha!” I said. “Not in this neighborhood. You know that story.”

“Keep saving your pennies,” he said. “Maybe someday you can.”

On My Left

“On your left!” It’s something you call out when you’re overtaking another cyclist on the road. It’s a courtesy, a heads-up. It can be an abrupt or friendly moment. It offers an instant of connection to that other cyclist you’re passing or being passed by.

On long, long rides, if you happen to be the cyclist on the right, the one overtaken, the words might stir you from a reverie or snap you out of your focus on the fog line on the road’s right edge. Or if you’re riding at night out in the country, that voice in the dark might remind you that there’s more in the world than oncoming cars or the little pool of light that your headlamp casts on the pavement ahead.

Then the encounter ends. The passing cyclist moves ahead. They disappear around that next bend in the road; at night, their tail light grows dim and vanishes. Maybe you’ll see them at the next stop along the way, or as they stop to check a map at a crossroads. The ride goes on.

What’s all this about?

Well, the night before last, a good friend and memorable cycling companion passed away. It was not a surprise. He had been fighting cancer — a particularly nasty, debilitating form of the disease for someone who was as strong on the bike as he had been.

I’m not mentioning his name because I don’t think his family has made the news public yet. But I’m thinking about him, and them, on this rainy, gloomy Christmas Eve — which come to think of it is not too different from many of the days we spent riding together.

Anyway. He’s overtaken me — on my left — and the rest of the pack, and has headed up the road beyond that next curve.

Good riding, buddy, wherever the road takes you next.

Illuminating Dark Corners of the California Vehicle Code

Shattuck Avenue and Walnut Street, Berkeley.
Curious fact: Until this year, it was against the law in California to start across a street after the countdown timer started (or when the red “don’t cross” hand appeared).

That law was mostly unenforced, except in Los Angeles, where the LAPD went after people hard.

A state legislator from down there got a bill passed (and the governor’s signature on that bill) that now allows pedestrians to start across on the countdown as long as they make it to the other side — or can stop in a safe place mid-street, like a median — by the time the counter hits zero.

For intersections with the older signals — those that display the walking man or the red hand only, with no timer, it’s still illegal to begin crossing once the hand starts flashing.

‘Individual Acts of Hospitality Are Not the Answer’

I think a lot about homelessness, about what it represents in our society, about our responses to it collectively and individually, about the many encounters — with a man named Charles, instance, and with Eric, and with Perry — with the destitute and down and out I’ve had over the years. And about the meaning of personal gestures.

The New York Times just published excerpts of the prison letters of Nelson Mandela. One, to his son Makgatho, talked about effective responses to poverty:

I have been reminiscing a great deal … Those were the days when you lived a happy life free of problems and fenced from all hardships and insecurity by parental love. You did not work, grub was galore, clothing was plentiful and you slept good. But some of your playmates those days roamed around completely naked and dirty because their parents were too poor to dress them and to keep them clean.

Often you brought them home and gave them food. Sometimes you went away with double the amount of swimming fees to help a needy friend. Perhaps then you acted purely out of a child’s affection for a friend, and not because you had become consciously aware of the extremes of wealth and poverty that characterized our social life. …

It’s a good thing to help a friend whenever you can; but individual acts of hospitality are not the answer. …

This is not a problem that can be handled by individual acts of hospitality. The man who attempted to use his own possessions to help all the needy would be permanently ruined and in due course himself live on alms. Experience shows that this problem can be effectively tackled only by a disciplined body of persons, who are inspired by the same ideas and united in a common cause.

Scout: The Life and Times of the Dog Who Found Us

Scout at Carrizo Plain in 2014. Kate found him on the edge of Soda Lake, the white expanse in the distance, during a visit in 2006.

Twelve years ago this month, our lives changed in a way we never saw coming: A dog found Kate in the California outback and adopted her, and us.

By way of explanation: We were down in Paso Robles, at the southern end of the Salinas Valley, for a long Saturday bike ride I was doing. While I was pedaling all over hell and gone with my friend Bruce Berg, Kate went off for the day with Bruce’s wife, Linda Artel, and some of her friends for a visit to the Carrizo Plain.

For the purposes of the present tale, the main thing to know about the Carrizo Plain is that it’s not close to anything. It lies in the lee of the coastal ranges to the west, and you need to cross a mountain range to the east to get to the dry southern end of the Central Valley. From Soda Lake, the alkali mudflat at the heart of the plain, it’s a long, dry trip to anyplace where people live.

So Kate’s group got a surprise as they joined a ranger’s tour on that clear, hot Saturday. Strolling along a plank walk on the edge of the lake, a boy in the group called out, “There’s a dead dog.” A dog’s tail was sticking out from beneath the walkway. When the ranger climbed down to investigate, the tail began wagging — its owner wasn’t dead after all.

In fact, there were two dogs that had sought shelter in the meager shade afforded by the walkway. The one with the wagging tail emerged immediately, covered in gray mud — the boy who had spotted him called him “Dusty.” The other dog refused to come out — maybe too scared or too exhausted to respond to the ranger’s coaxing.

But “Dusty” went with the group back to the ranger’s truck. The ranger tied a rope to the dog’s collar, and Kate, with the group’s encouragement, took charge of him. He drank some water and ate a little turkey from someone’s sandwich. When the group got to its next stop, a trail leading to some Native American petroglyphs, Kate stayed with the dog, whose coat was beginning to show through as the mud and dirt covering him began to fall away. He looked like he was actually black, with a white chest — a border collie, maybe — and Kate was taken with him.

The feeling was mutual. When Kate left “Dusty” with Linda so she could go off and see the petroglyphs herself, the dog stared after her and didn’t relax his attention until she returned.

The ranger had said at some point that he would have to drive the dog to an animal shelter in San Luis Obispo, about 70 road miles away. Kate wrote down her contact information and told him she’d be interested in the dog if no one claimed him.

“You know, you can take this dog now if you want him,” the ranger said, adding it was very unlikely that anyone would come looking for him. That was because the dog probably was not lost but had been abandoned on the desolate plain.

Kate was reluctant at first. She hadn’t talked to me, for one thing, and we were staying in a motel that didn’t allow pets. But Linda and the other people in the group urged her to take the dog and even said they’d keep it for her overnight if necessary. So she agreed to take the dog, who was alert and friendly but still so weak that Kate had to lift him into the back of our van.

When she got back to Paso Robles, she set about taking care of business. She went to one of those big-box pet stores, where she hoped to give the dog a bath. But since it wasn’t clear he’d had his shots, the store wouldn’t allow it. So she bought pet shampoo, a big towel, a bed, food and other supplies and brought the dog back to our motel. A woman at the front desk said not to worry about having the dog in our room as long as he didn’t make a racket. “Try to keep a low profile,” she said. Kate bathed him — it turned out he had white paws — and afterward the dog fell asleep.

Remember that I was out there somewhere on my bike all this time and had no idea any of this was going on. Thinking back, I’m remembering the last leg of the ride, through the hills south and east of Paso Robles, and making my way back to town a little after dark, alone. I got to the finish area in the town square and thought I’d see Kate, who I figured would want to share my triumph. But she was nowhere to be found, and she didn’t answer when I tried to call her cellphone.

I may have been peeved. I went back to the motel, just a block or so away, and wheeled my bike toward our room. The window was open.

“Kate?” I called. There was a pause. Then she said, “Wait a minute — there’s a … a … a being here.” She didn’t want to say “dog” in case someone heard her.

I’m not sure I said, “Being?!?” out loud, but that’s what I was thinking. When I opened the door, I saw what — who — she was talking about.

Kate’s recollection is that my first words were, “So we have a dog now?” All I remember was that the dog was quiet and put up his paw to shake when I approached. And yeah, he was a good-looking hound, too.

Scout, on our Ikea couch, waiting out a prolonged rain in 2014.

That night, Kate said she wanted to give the dog a classic dog name, something short. One syllable.

My first suggestion: “Richard Milhous Nixon?” I wasn’t serious — why would you do that to an innocent pet? — but I actually like the idea of naming a dog “Nixon” for its sheer improbability.

“No,” Kate said.

“How about ‘Scout,'” I said.

And that stuck immediately.

The next morning, Scout had recovered to the extent that when we went to get in the van to drive back north, he jumped in the back by himself. When we stopped at a Starbucks on the way home and Kate went inside, he stood guard at the door until she came back out. She was already, and would always be, his pack leader.

Back in Berkeley, we did what you do with a newly adopted pet found wandering in the backlands. He was skinny and full of worms, ticks and foxtails, and we took him to the humane society for a checkup. The vet pronounced him basically healthy. “He’s a good dog — a really good dog,” the vet said. Maybe a year and a half old.

But he pointed out a couple of things that he thought were odd: the little incisor teeth in his lower jaw were badly worn, as if he’d been chewing something hard, like rocks or maybe a chain. Also, he had a recent-looking incision that showed he had been neutered.

What was the story there? Had he been tied up for a long time somewhere and worn his teeth down chewing on things? Had he been in a shelter where he’d been fixed as part of an adoption process? He hadn’t been microchipped, so there was no history to go on.

We always wondered how he had wound up in the back of beyond. Maybe a week after we brought him home, I called down to the visitors’ center at the Carrizo Plain National Monument to see if anyone had reported a lost dog. As I recorded at the time:

“No,” the woman at the center said, “and let me tell you what happens with these dogs. People come out here and just leave them, no water, no food, nothing. It’s a real bad deal.” Occasionally, she said, herders will shoot the strays to keep them from harassing sheep grazing in the area. Starvation or thirst or coyotes take care of most of the rest, though occasionally the monument’s rangers will catch a dog and take it to the animal shelter in San Luis Obispo.

“This is far enough off the road that you can put the dog out and drive away and they can’t chase you,” the visitors’ center woman said. “People split up and decide they can’t keep their dog, or they don’t want to take it to the shelter — over in Taft you just put the dog down a chute and they usually just put it to sleep. But this is a bad deal. You wonder what people are thinking.”

The mystery only deepened over the ensuing months and years. Scout was sweet-tempered, well-behaved, and very quick to learn. He was already house-broken. He didn’t go nuts and chew things up when we were out of the house. It took me all of a week or so to teach him what I wanted him to do — top priority: stop at corners and not go into the street — when I walked him off leash.

He was opinionated, letting us know where he wanted to go and what turns we ought to make when we were out on walks. He remembered the routes to the stores and cafes around town that were reliable sources of treats and tried to get us to visit them often.

He was bright-eyed and handsome to a fare-thee-well, and strangers often commented on how good looking he (or, as they often thought, she) was. He was patient, attentive, loyal, goofy and funny. He put up with long car trips. He loved to be outside and walk and walk and walk. He was good with kids and other dogs and even the backyard chickens.

He left an impression on the neighborhood and on us — on people who would see him and greet him regularly, and on us as we traveled nearby blocks. “Scout’s choice” meant a walk where we’d follow his turns. “Fancy crossing” was a diagonal crossing at an intersection. “Boring way” was our walking route through the neighborhood on our routine walk before bed; “interesting way” was an alternate route through the little shopping district nearby. “Through the grotto” was a shortened nighttime walk. Past “head grabber” was the route past a nasty rose bush growing low over the sidewalk.

To be fair and balanced, he had a few drawbacks: He was a little slow to learn what skunks were about and took a couple of direct hits in the face. He was a cadge, and especially in his bad-breath old age had a terrible habit of sitting next to us when we ate pizza and panting in expectation of the crusts he was sure would come his way. He was a fiend for any discarded food item, regardless of provenance, age or wrapping, that he sniffed out on the streets, sidewalks, lawns and shrubbery along our walks; I don’t doubt that I occasionally left strangers with the impression his name was “Goddamnitscout.”

Kate has always pointed out that whatever had happened to Scout before he was discovered on the edge of the dry lakebed, he was an optimist by nature, a trusting soul, and smart enough to weigh the odds of survival. When people had happened across his little shelter, a place where he could well have died if help didn’t arrive, he ventured out to greet them, tail wagging.

In short, he was amazing, and an amazing find to make out there in the wild. For years, right up to this week, I wished Scout could tell us what or who brought him there, what his name was before Kate found him.

One thought I had over the years about his apparent abandonment: Maybe he was put out on his own because whoever had him before didn’t think he was fit to be a working dog. He had a border collie’s smarts mixed with some other breed’s reserve and calm. When he was young, he was energetic and fast and loved to run — herding other dogs and leading the neighborhood greyhound, Porter, on intense but inevitably short chases. He didn’t show signs of discomfort. But a neighbor, Alice, who became one of his best friends, observed the first time she saw him walk that it looked like he had hip dysplasia.

That was never a formal diagnosis, but it became apparent as he aged that Scout was big and strong in his front end and rather stiff and weak in his back end. He compensated. We went on long, long walks from our place up into the hills and back, and he never shrank from long flights of stairs or steep trails or any other stupid thing I asked him to undertake.

That changed, though, and in the last couple of years, that trend became much more pronounced. He stopped wanting to go on the longer walks. The weakness in his hindquarters became more evident, and he could no longer raise his tail, let alone wag it. He was done with stairs, except for the descending variety. He slowed way down and sometimes dragged his back legs to the point where you could hear his back claws scratching on the sidewalk. What might have once been a 10- or 15-minute walk took a half-hour, then longer. He began panting loudly even making what seemed to me to be a mild effort. He became incontinent and for the first time started leaving dumps on the floor with enough regularity that we’d have to remind ourselves to watch for them if we got up in the middle of the night. On top of all that, he seemed to have gone nearly totally deaf and his eyesight seemed to be failing.

But he was still himself, sweet and most content, we thought, just hanging out with us. And he was as focused as ever on his pack leader, following Kate around the house, monitoring her comings and goings.

Over the past six months or so, we had started to talk about whether, or when, we might need to do something. By “doing something,” I mean “put him to sleep.”

It was a strange and fraught conversation for both of us.

Strange, for me, because even though I grew up with many dogs — Pooh Bear, Flag, Lizzie, Chip-Chip, Dulcey (short for Dulcinea — our mom being a fan of “Man of La Mancha”), Posey and Angus, among others — putting them to sleep had never really been a consideration. Nature or high-speed traffic intervened to shorten the lives of virtually all of them. For instance: Pooh Bear, our first dog, a beautiful springer spaniel mix, lay down and died at Mom’s feet after her treatment for heartworm.

And fraught, obviously, because here we were, Scout’s people, pondering ending a life that he couldn’t tell us he was enjoying or not. We wanted to do the best we could by this noble, dear creature and do it with the understanding that we were on our own in making it.

One thing Kate and I agreed on was that we didn’t want to see Scout reduced to a state of utter helplessness or to be in a situation that required some sort of emergency response. The week before last, we got a chance to see what “utter helplessness” might look like. For most of a day, Scout was unable to stand up without help and could only walk with some difficulty. So we decided to act.

Vets here in Berkeley — and probably many places — will make house calls for those who have decided to put their pets to sleep. It’s a way of avoiding the stress of bringing a sick or dying pet into the clinic for an inevitably traumatic procedure, and perhaps a way of taking some comfort in the last moments of a companion.

Our appointed time was late last Monday afternoon.

Last portrait: April 30, 2017. Scout was the best.

Having worked over the previous weekend, I stayed at home to get things ready. I vacuumed and mopped and cleaned up a little — why exactly I can’t tell you — and I took Scout out for our last walk together.

My grief had crystallized around two thoughts: First, that what we were about to do was final — very final, with no turning back. And second — and most painful for someone who has always experienced a pang of sorrow at endings — that this chapter in our lives, the Scout chapter, the story of being alongside this being, as Kate had called him so long ago, was about to be over.

Beyond that was the fact Scout was such a presence — and a reliably cheerful one — in our lives. Even shuffling along in the way he was reduced to doing in his last few months, he seemed to relish being out with his pack.

The afternoon arrived. Thom came over, and Kate got home about an hour before the vet was scheduled to arrive. We spent the late afternoon sitting with the dog, and Kate read something she had written:

“Twelve years ago, when you joined our family, you had only a collar, and your whole wonderful self. We called you Scout, and you always liked to lead us. We can’t follow you now, but our love and thanks follow you and stay with you. Good dog, Scout. You have always been a good dog.”

The vet and her technician got here a few minutes late — I was glad for even that little extra time. They set up for their procedure: They’d give Scout a strong sedative that would calm him after a few minutes, then an overdose of an anesthetic that would stop his heart.

The dog was a little agitated. He knew something was up — all these people hanging around all of a sudden, and maybe he picked up the scent of the veterinary hospital, too. But we calmed him. The drugs were administered, and he was gone. The vet and technician bundled him onto a litter, carried him out to their station wagon, and departed.

And now? Well, Scout is still here in lots of ways, but most in our expectation that he’ll be waiting for us when we open the front door or eager to go out for his morning walk. That will pass, I guess. Eventually.

At Mackerricher State Park, just north of Fort Bragg, in January 2018.

Naming the Golden Gate

Looking toward the Golden Gate, New Year’s Eve 2014.

From John Charles Fremont, “Geographical Memoir Upon Upper California,” 1848:

“The bay of San Francisco is separated from the sea by low mountain ranges. Looking from the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, the coast mountains present an apparently continuous line, with only a single gap, resembling a mountain pass. This is the entrance to the great bay, and is the only water communication from the coast to the interior country. Approaching from the sea, the coast presents a bold outline. On the south, the bordering mountains come down in a narrow ridge of broken hills, terminating in a precipitous point, against which the sea breaks heavily. On the northern side, the mountain presents a bold promontory, rising in a few miles to a height of two or three thousand feet [Mount Tamalpais, earlier called Table Mountain]. Between these points is the strait — about one mile broad, in the narrowest part, and five miles long from the sea to the bay. Passing through this gate,* the bay opens to the right and left, extending in each direction about 35 miles, having a total length of more than 70 and a coast of about 275 miles. It is divided by straits and projecting points into three separate bays, of which the northern two are called San Pablo and Suisun bays. …”

*Called Chrysopolae (Golden Gate) on the map, on the same principle that the harbor of Byzantium (Constantinople afterwards) was called Chrysoecras (golden horn). The form of the harbor, and its advantages for commerce (and that before it became an entrepôt of eastern commerce,) suggested the name to the Greek founders of Byzantium. The form of the entrance into the bay of San Francisco, and its advantages for commerce (Asiatic inclusive,) suggest the name which is given to this entrance.

Today It Rained

Flowering quince, just up the block from the old Adams place.

Today it rained. Those droplets on the flowering quince up there above are the proof. Our non-fancy rain electronic rain gauge reads .04 of an inch for the day. And since this was the first rain since January 25, that makes .04 of an inch for the month, too.

As California climatologists are quick to point out, longish dry spells are not unusual during California’s wet season. But this long dry spell matches one we had in December, when we got just .12 of an inch. Those two dry months came sandwiched around a pretty average January — 4.77 inches according to our rain gauge. So adding up the last two and a two-thirds months, we’ve gotten less than 5 inches of rain, total.

As in most of the rest of California, December, January and February are the three wettest months of the year. The official Berkeley record shows an average total for those three months, since 1893, of 13.16 inches. The December-January-February average for the 1981-2010 climate “normal” was significantly higher — 15.23 inches. (That’s a pretty wide spread, and it’s probably due to many months of missing data over the last 125 years.)

A year ago — our one really wet winter in the last six, we got 9.85 inches in February alone. Our D-J-F total for 2016-17 was 28.63 inches.

Of course, February isn’t over yet. More chances of rain are forecast over parts of Northern California for the next week. We’ll see how that pans out.

Annals of Infrastructure, Berkeley Street-Paving Edition

What the remaining “asphalt” looks like on Holly Street after sweeping away the gravel on the surface.

Editor’s note: The following is not whining.

Now that that’s been established, a brief tale about our short street in North Berkeley. We moved to the street several presidential administrations ago — during the tenure of the Republican before the Republican before the Democrat before the Republican before the Democrat before the current “Republican.”

“Nearly three decades ago” would also put you in the right historical neighborhood.

The street was paved within three or four years of our arrival. Not a big deal. The pavement hadn’t seemed terrible. But new, smooth asphalt seemed like a luxury.

That’s the last time the street was paved, and over the past 10 years or so, it became apparent the asphalt was breaking down. There’s lots of gravel on the paved surface. The rocks still embedded in the asphalt seem exceptionally sharp; if you happened to fall while cycling or running down the street, you’d be cut to ribbons. And much of what’s left of the pavement is eroded into little rills and gullies. If you sweep away a patch of gravel and look at it in the right light, it’s kind of beautiful.

Naturally, some of us on the street have told the city of Berkeley we’d be interested in seeing the street repaved. Year after year, the street hasn’t made it onto city’s list of upcoming paving projects. This past spring we sent a brief petition into our councilmember, the mayor and the Public Works Commission asking for the street to get attention. Last week, public works presented its list of streets to be repaved over the next five years, and we weren’t on it.

We’re not sure what, if any, recourse we have, except maybe to make more noise. In the meantime, I sent a letter to the chair of the Public Works Commission. That note (first) and her reply, are below:

Me:

I offer the following with the knowledge there are much bigger issues in the world than patches of local asphalt and with a determination not to get my blood pressure up or give anyone else too much grief over something as transient in the cosmic scheme as pavement.

If I’m reading the agenda item from last night’s council meeting correctly, Holly Street has not even made it onto the 2018-2022 street rehabilitation plan. (Question 1: Am I reading that correctly?)

I assume this is at least partly due to Holly being a non-arterial/non-collector street and thus lower priority — though I note that residential streets are getting “priority” in fiscal 2018 and also that plenty of similar residential streets in no worse condition than Holly have been repaved in the recent past or are now scheduled for repaving. Having skimmed the presentations for last night’s council meeting, I also know that funding is an ongoing challenge (for paving and every other kind of infrastructure).

Question 2: Do we have any recourse to the plan adopted last night? I mean, besides complaining to a council member who’s hearing the same kind of thing from all quarters and doesn’t seem to have much power to get our street on the list?

I think I’m at the point where I’ll suggest to neighbors that we start planting stuff in the street — there seem to be plenty of receptive areas in the remaining pavement for wildflower seeds, native grasses, etc. — and let nature really take its course. Maybe the city can adopt us as a street reclamation pilot project.

From PWC chair:

You are correct the Holly Street is not currently in any of the staff plans for repaving. On the plus side, at the end of a very long meeting last night, Council approved only the first two years of the staff proposed plan, so there is room discussion on the 2020-2022 plan years.

Your street is now in the horrific position of being too broken to maintain. Having said that, we made some incremental progress in the implementation of policy on 15% of funding available for discretionary projects. The PWC continues to recommend that once streets fail and require reconstruction, that is a good time to look at alternative technologies. As you have already expressed your neighbors’ support for green infrastructure, Holly St may be a good candidate for a demonstration project.

As the mandate to the PWC directs us to address the Paving Plan’s compliance with policy rather than specific streets, I think we should work with Linda Maio to discuss how to raise specific street concerns and find a fair and equitable way for us as citizens to 1) know the status, quality ranking of streets we are concerned about as individuals, 2) understand our individual priority streets in the context of a citywide perspective of work needed and limited available funds, and 3) develop a transparent forum that provides an avenue for citizen input to the street rehabilitation plan.

The PWC will be working to provide policy recommendations to the Council over the coming few months and I will keep you posted on our progress, looking forward to your input and suggestions. Thank you for your concern, communication, and delightful technical recommendation.

I look forward to talking in the coming months.