Monday, April 20, 2009

Plus ça change . . . .

[Excerpt from testimony given before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors March 24, 1976 [!], the last county in the United States not to have a General Plan. The numbers refer to the proposed plan, which was stalled. At the time I was managing a vineyard and winery in Healdsburg, having despaired of ever being able to live my vocation.]

I wish to speak on the subject of minerals, page 72, paragraphs 2 and 3, and water, pages 83 and 84.

I speak for the Russian River, since the river cannot speak for itself. It supports agriculture and supplies water for much of this county's and North Marin's population. It is an invaluable scenic and natural area. The river is also home for many of the California species on the endangered species list.

It was once a great anadromous fishery, in spite of its seasonal nature. The great steelhead streams of New Zealand were stocked from its waters, which were alive with fish during the rainy season.

But this past autumn, the silver salmon became trapped above Wohler bridge because a summer dam is necessary for the Wohler pumps to operate efficiently; the summer dam had not properly been destroyed at the end of the season. The reason for the dam is that uncontroleld graveling upstream from the pumps has affected the natural movement of gravel, on which the pumps, on gravel wells, depend, the level of the water table, and most of all the purity, through filtration, of the water that serves a quarter of a million people.

The river valley still supports, in vastly diminished numbers, osprey, eagle, falcon, heron, egret, cougar, turtle and other animals. This wildlife, along with the fisheries, are jeopardized by timber extraction, graveling, denudation of the riverbanks, excessive pollution and use of firearms in so-called recreation by the public, and development on septic systems in areas where there are year-round streams, also refuges for vanishing wildlife.

The river cannot continue to support unregulated hordes of recreational users, who neither understand nor care about this valuable resource, who leave their beer cans, glass, garbage and underwear strewn throughout the valley. The osprey and other animals cannot forever successfully dodge the potshots of visitors who shoot at anything that moves, including human residents . . . .

The grizzlies are gone. The osprey and kites are being shot. The herons are quietly vanishing. Perhaps amid the growl and shriek of gravel extraction, the shouting and raucous passage of the canoeists [a canoe operator claimed 100,000 activity days a year on a river that was un-navigable for 6 months annually], and the constant staccato gunfire few will mark their passing. Only those of us who have one foot left in the marshes and the haunting genetic memory of another age . . . .

It has become a matter of self-evidence that realtor-planned communities—in other words, urban and suburban sprawl—have a marked increase in demand not only in terms of county services such as sewers and water, but also in terms of county services such as law enforcement, health services, and social services, because they have a higher incidence of both stress diseases such as heart attacks and cancer, and social diseases such as drug addiction and violent and white collar crime [AIDS and STDs were only just appearing on the horizon]. These result in excessive taxes.

Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century pointed out the public burden of urban blight. Economic advisors to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors some years ago pointed out that for every 100 acres of agricultural land lost to urban sprawl the cost to taxpayers can be $1 million or more. Last December at the cities conference in Miami a special report commented that inducements to growth offered 10 to 15 years ago are now liabilities.

As for the wildlife, it is not only part of our subliminal mythology—we name our cars after endangered species, for example, because of what they unconsciously symbolize—they are environmental barometer: their passing foretells of the end of viability of human life on earth.

But there is another, ethical side to this issue. Without the Gernal Plan, the death knell of agriculture in this country would be sounded. I am a farmer, and would like to point out that the official stand of the Farm Bureau does not represent my point of view, nor that of many other farmers interested in staying in agriculture.

The agricultural land in question is Class I and II land, the most valuable agricultural land there is. Only 10% of the entire earth's surface is arable. And there is a world food shortage.

There are those who say that Sonoma County land isn't good for much else than fruits and vines, both so-called luxury items. But what about the day when people will be thankful for a few turnips and potatoes and carrots, when each plot of arable land will be so precious that it is conceivable that it will be operated on a trust basis . . . .But what happens if all the arable land in Sonoma County is covered with ticky-tacky and shopping centers? How will we have any agriculture left? Are we forever to say to someone else, "Here, you grow our food?"

Every piece of arable land left anywhere, now, will mean the difference between life or starvation in the years to come. Years we may never see, but our children will.

Sonoma County is part of a state, country and planet, and is responsible, whether it likes it or not, to the larger units as well as itself, for wise stewardship of its resources.

We can no longer afford the kind of development that is born of superabundance, greed, and a taste for wasteful living. The General Plan gives us not only a greater sense of self-sufficiency as a country, but also recalls us to a sense of reality from our ventures into increasing grandiosity. We live in an era when time, technology and its requirements and population demands are telescoping dramatically.

The General Plan is going to be expensive in economic terms, but not as expensive as unregulated growth. It is also going to be expensive in personal terms. It is going to cost each of us something.

It will cost the farmer and the dairyman more in terms of guarding the land he tills or uses to preserve its fertility. This means long hours, some of them spent covered with mire.

It will cost the developer his dreams of empire. Perhaps he will settle for a squirearchy.

It will cost the graveler his self-certification to conduct open pit strip mining among the aquafers that help provide water for agriculture and a quarter of a million people. Perhaps he will settle for graveling in an area where skimming is necessary, or where no water or other resource is jeopardized.

It will cost the environmentalist his ivory tower privacy and require him to get off his apathetic gluteus maximus and make himself heard at meetings like this one, in order to make the plan work.

But these costs are nothing in comparison to the human misery that is inevitable without a plan.

It will require from all of us a reorientation toward a simpler mode of life, of attitudes, and a reassessment of our personal values. I think the implication of this last cost, that of acquiring self-discipline, is at the heart of the law behind the General Plan, and is beautifully illuminated in the editorial by David Bolling which appeared in the News Herald last Thanksgiving week . . . called "Greed, Apathy, and the Puritan Ethic."


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