Archive for July, 2007

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Two ravens have begun defending my pasture, often sitting atop pine trees and croaking out loud “cr-r-ruck” warnings. Whenever I wander down my driveway, they circle low overhead, creating quite a din. The easiest way to distinguish ravens from crows, by the way, is by their tails. Raven tails are tapered like the bottom of a man’s tie while the ends of crow tails are squared off. In this photo, a downward flap of the wings leaves a ghost image above them.

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A blacktail fawn nibbles on a blackberry vine outside my kitchen window.

Whether one finds entertainment in music, wildlife, or the cosmos, Marin County can be a pretty good place to live. The wildlife alone is more entertaining than television, and enjoying it merely requires keeping your eyes and ears open. In West Marin where light pollution is minimal, the cosmos is on display every night that isn’t foggy. And as for Marin’s music scene, the venues may be small, but the performers are typically top notch.

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Moonrise at the Station House Café. The arms of light extending to the right and left are part of a small cloud in front of the moon. In the foreground, a woman in the shadows reads a map by the light of the café sign as a car drives by.

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Meanwhile inside the Station House, Si Perkoff on piano, Daniel Fabricant on standup bass, and Dale Polissar on clarinet perform a dazzling set of melodic jazz.


Last Friday a friend and I attended an impressive performance of Hawaiian slack-key-guitar music at the Dance Palace, and on Saturday another friend and I went to the venerable No Name Bar in Sausalito to listen to jazz. The No Name is virtually the last establishment around here surviving from the Beat Era, and the music we called “modern jazz” in the 1950s and 60s can still be heard in the bar every Friday and Saturday night.

Shortly after we found a table, three couples showed up and took a pair of tables next to us. One nut-brown-complected woman in the group was speaking French, and before long she stood up and began dancing all by herself. Now it’s not unusual for a couple or two to dance in the narrow straits between the No Name’s bandstand and bar, but in my years of going to the place, I had never before seen a dancer quite like this one.

The woman must have been a French stripper, for she started doing bumps and grinds in front of the band, giggling all the while. Her dance routine included flirting with men at the bar and periodically raising her a leg over her head as if she were flashing. (In fact, she was wearing long pants.) At other times, she passionately kissed her rakishly coifed husband, and in general kept both men and women in the bar wondering what she would do next.

When the band at her request played a bossa nova number, she and a tall blonde from her group started to dance only to have a somewhat tipsy guy, who’d been on a stool at the bar, cut in and start dancing with her. The blonde then convinced a more-than-hefty black woman from another table to dance with her. Rhythmically swaying to the beat, the third woman’s grace was as impressive as her size. The French woman meanwhile danced holding the tipsy man’s hands on her butt or alternately holding her own arms around his neck; her husband just laughed.

When the three couples finally left the bar, the waitress quipped: “Show’s over.” My friend and I chuckled, but the tipsy guy on his stool at the bar looked forlorn.

The rest of the world may going to hell in a handbasket, I thought to myself, but here in Marin County, folks are still finding ways to have fun.

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More entertainment: With a droplet of water still on its chin, a roof rat prepares to climb down a lattice after taking a drink from the birdbath on my deck. In the late 1340s, roof rats’ fleas spread bubonic plague throughout Europe, but the main danger from the timid, little roof rats now in West Marin is to dishwashers. Please see Posting No. 13 for that story.

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There was a time in these parts when “W.M.” stood for “West Marin,” but in 1998, Waste Management appropriated the initials for its new, shiny containers which hold our home and yard debris. It now appears that this coast will soon be able to reclaim the abbreviation. These containers are at the foot of Balboa Avenue overlooking White House Pool.

Waste Management of Houston, the conglomerate that for most of July stopped picking up garbage in Oakland and other East Bay cities, may soon stop picking up garbage in West Marin. Here, however, another garbage company is waiting in the wings to take over the conglomerate’s role, so no interruption of service is likely.

In short, what’s in the works is not a big change in garbage but a change in Big Garbage. Waste Management has begun preparations to sell its West Marin franchise to James Ratto. A native of Italy, Ratto has been in the garbage business 51 years and has owned or been a significant investor in about three dozen garbage companies around California. He locally runs The Ratto Group of garbage-pickup operations in Sonoma County and is an owner of Fairfax Garbage Disposal and Novato Disposal Service. Waste Management owns garbage companies throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Marin County’s only dump, Redwood Sanitary Landfill in Novato.

Waste Management also holds separate franchises from Bolinas Public Utility District and Stinson Beach Water District to pick up garbage in those towns. For more than a month, the boards of both districts have been aware Waste Management wants to sell Ratto the franchises for their towns too. Indeed BPUD’s board was preparing to discuss the pending “sale of assets” this Wednesday night, district manager Jennifer Blackman told me earlier in the day.

Jeff Rawles, deputy director of the Marin County Department of Public Works, on Wednesday told me DPW is still waiting for a letter of intent from the corporation before drafting a Board of Supervisors resolution to change the franchise for garbage pickup in West Marin and other unincorporated areas. Referring to Waste Management staff, Rawles noted, “I talked with them. We’ve said, ‘Where’s your letter?’” The county is still waiting for it, Rawles added, but “we’re proceeding under the expectation they’re going to sell.”

Rawles noted that The Ratto Group (through competitive bidding) previously “took over most of Waste Management’s business in Sonoma County.”

Meanwhile, non-union garbagemen this past week began carting off some of the mountains of trash that have been steadily rising along streets in Oakland and other East Bay cities since July 2. On that date Waste Management locked out nearly 500 drivers who belong to the Teamsters Union. The Teamsters’ Alameda County contract with the conglomerate ran out June 30, and thus far negotiators for the two sides have been unable to agree on a new contract. Still at issue are pay, pensions, benefits, and worker discipline.

Waste Management said it locked out its drivers as a preemptive move lest they strike, but the logic of that gambit escapes me, for the effect is the same either way. The union, in turn, has said its members would rather be driving, but as management’s lockout continued, the Teamsters last Friday began picketing Waste Management’s garbage operations in Sonora and Stockton plus its recycling facility in Walnut Creek. With recycling drivers now staying home in Walnut Creek, Tom Ridder, Waste Management’s district manager here, spent Wednesday driving a truck in that city and was not immediately available for comment on the pending sale.

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With lettering almost as large as “Inverness Park” on the county roadsign, the Waste Management logo on its debris containers helps frame the gateway to town. The ubiquitous containers have created a leitmotif for West Marin’s scenic roadways.

In 1990, the County of Marin gave Shoreline Disposal a 25-year franchise to pick up garbage in West Marin, but Waste Management bought Shoreline in 1998 and took over the franchise. County government then ordered an audit of Shoreline’s books and eventually concluded the company had overcharged West Marin residents by as much as $479,000 in 1997, 1998, and 1999. Waste Management in 1999 negotiated a $244,000 settlement, but the money was not returned to the residents. The county held onto it, with most of the money earmarked for educating residents here about proper disposal of waste. That’s a lot of education. Or waste.

The West Marin franchise provides for the garbage hauler’s pickup rates to be reviewed every four years, and this year is that year, Rawles said. The county determines whether the hauler’s recorded costs and revenue are accurate, and if they are, the county allows a 10 percent profit, the DPW deputy director said. He predicted a change in rates and said it is unlikely they will be lowered. In Bolinas, the hauler is annually given a rate increase equivalent to 85 percent of the rise in the federal Consumer Price Index, Blackman said. Garbage rates in Bolinas, however, cannot go up by more than 8 percent a year unless BPUD’s board agrees there is an extraordinary need, she added.

And then there is the question of how all this affects the West Marin Sanitary Landfill, the Martinelli family’s dump in Point Reyes Station that closed in 1998. In 1996, Ratto argued there should be a transfer station at the dump so that a few large trucks occasionally — rather than several smaller trucks frequently — would transport coastal garbage over the hill. Waste Management would not be selling its West Marin franchise if it were very profitable, and driving up its costs has been the need for garbage trucks from the coast to regularly travel all the way to Redwood Sanitary Landfill north of Novato for unloading.

The Martinelli family would still like to have a transfer station at their Tomasini Canyon site. No doubt they could use income from it towards sealing and monitoring the landfill. However, Ratto, 67, is a tough bargainer and sometimes-controversial businessman, and he and the Martinellis several years ago had a falling out. It is, therefore, anyone’s guess as to whether the garbage-company owner would ever resurrect the transfer-station proposal.

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Nick’s Cove restaurant and cottages, which Croatian immigrants Nick and Frances Kojich originally opened on the east shore of Tomales Bay in 1931, reopened last week after being closed seven years for remodeling.

This past Sunday, owners Pat Kuleto and Mark Franz held a benefit party for the Tomales Volunteer Fire Department and invited the West Marin community to be the resort’s guests. For me, it was a pleasant reminder of how many oysters I can eat when I’m not paying for them.

The restaurant, bar, and cottages had gone unused for seven years because of an exhausting permit process. The five-year process ran up the cost of refurbishing Nick’s Cove from an initial estimate of $3.5 million to an eventual total of $14 million, investors Pam Klarkowski née West and her husband Rick Klarkowski told me during the party.

When I had a moment to chat with Pat Kuleto, I commented that given all his permit hassles, I suspected there must have been four or five time times when he wished he’d never bought Nick’s Cove from Ruth Gibson (at a cost of $2 million back in 2000). “More like 400 or 500 times,” Pat responded. The restaurateur said that during his career (of more than 35 years) he has designed 190 restaurants. (Among them is San Francisco’s “beloved” Fog City Diner, which opened in 1985, the Nick’s Cove website notes.)

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Pat Kuleto with his girlfriend Sarah Livermore, a singer who performed at Sunday’s party.

With 34 government agencies and citizen groups each wanting its own concerns addressed in the permit process, remodeling Nick’s Cove was “three times harder” than even the most difficult of his other restaurants, Pat said. In a sarcastic commentary, the Nick’s Cove menu this week facetiously included red-legged frogs on its list of appetizers. The frogs, which are a “threatened” species because non-native bullfrogs here eat them, supposedly were served with plenty of red tape and cost $2 million apiece.

It’s worth noting that the same county, regional, and state bureaucracies, as well as citizen groups, have managed to intimidate potential buyers from trying to restore the historic Marshall Tavern south of Nick’s Cove. Very few people can afford the red tape Pat encountered.

I asked Pam how many investors Nick’s Cove has. She didn’t know but said there were definitely more than 20. “Even a winery wanted to invest,” she said. “We’re not expecting to make our money back the first year,” her husband added.

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Little Rock cottage on pilings over Tomales Bay rents for $975 a night on weekends in August.

Nor is the restaurant alone expected to repay investors. If all goes as planned, more than a third of Nick’s Cove’s income will come from overnight guests staying on both sides of Highway 1. The lodgings include four waterfront cottages, and July and August are high season. On weekends during July, the two-suite cottages rent for $680 per night while the two smaller cottages go for $595. In August, the weekend rates will be $850 per night for the smaller cottages and $975 for the two-suite cottages. On the other hand, the mid-week rate in July for the smaller cottages is a mere $440 per night.

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The bar at Nick’s Cove

Prices in the restaurant at Nick’s Cove range from $7 for a mixed-lettuce salad, to $12 for a gourmet hamburger, to $16 for fish and chips, to $24 for a grilled pork chop with peach chutney, to $32 for a 16-ounce, rib-eye steak.

visionaries_collage.jpgNick’s Cove executive chef Mark Franz (on right with his partner Pat Kuleto), has been on the “culinary scene” for 26 years, notes the resort’s website.

In 1997, Mark opened San Francisco’s Farallon restaurant, which was designed by Pat. Mark’s “coastal cuisine” at Farallon has received acclaim in Bon Appetít, Food & Wine, and similar magazines.

Several hundred guests showed up for Sunday’s party at Nick’s Cove, a lively event with a band and dancing in an outdoor dining area. Singing with the band was Pat’s girlfriend Sara Livermore. Chef Alex Klarkowski (below at right) and his older brother Ben barbecued oysters beside the bay all afternoon. Tomales firefighters, who parked two firetrucks outside the front door, sold raffle tickets while Marshall activist Donna Sheehan worked the crowd, trying to get people to complain to Caltrans about the lack of mowing this year along Highway 1.

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Standing at the end of Nick’s Cove’s long dock and looking back at the restaurant and cottages, I remembered happy times when I used to keep a boat in Inverness and would periodically sail to Nick’s Cove for a meal, sometimes sailing home after dark. Thanks to Pat, Mark, and innumerable investors, a new generation of sailors can enjoy the same wonderful outing.

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A blacktail doe and her two fawns in my field.

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Fawns at play bound across my field.

Now that Independence Day is over, let’s take a moment to reflect on what it was really all about. Footraces in Inverness? Parades in Woodacre and Bolinas? A tug of war between Bolinas and Stinson Beach? Illegal fireworks on Stinson Beach? I myself spent much of the holiday enjoying nature.

The odd thing about the Fourth of July is what it doesn’t represent. For example, did the 13 colonies begin their fight for independence from the British crown on July 4, 1776? No, the “shot heard ‘round the world” — at the opening battle of the Revolutionary War — had already been fired on April 19, 1775, in Concord, Massachusetts. Paul Revere had made his famous ride the previous night. On April 23, 1775, King George III had declared the colonies to be in open rebellion. The colonists had seized Fort Ticonderoga from the British on May 11, 1775, and on June 16, 1775, had fought the Battle of Bunker Hill.

In short, the American Revolution had been underway for a year when on June 7, 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies — meeting in Philadelphia as the Continental Congress — began debating whether to declare independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. On July 2, all the colonies except New York (which abstained) voted to approve a draft of the Declaration of Independence.

On July 4, 1776, members of the Continental Congress (with New York as usual abstaining) voted to approve a final draft of the Declaration of Independence, but only John Hancock, president of the Congress, signed it before it was sent to a printer.

The document we know as the Declaration of Independence was signed by all members of the Continental Congress, including New York, on Aug. 2, 1776, and backdated to July 4. Perhaps one reason we don’t celebrate Independence Day on Aug. 2 is that those who signed the document on Aug. 2 did so in secret to avoid British reprisals. I personally would have thought that keeping the public in the dark negated the purpose of a “Declaration” of Independence.

In any case, all this was so convoluted that future President John Adams mistakenly wrote his wife after the first vote: “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.”

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Likewise in the dark and fighting for survival: this dauntless vine of ivy has worked its way through a narrow gap in the wall into my basement, where it is now growing up through a cabinet in my workshop. Because there are no windows in the workshop, the vine gets light only when the basement door is briefly open, as it is here, or when the sun is in a position where there may occasionally be a crack of dim light around the door. The photo demonstrates the valiant persistence of ivy, but it also reveals why many homeowners don’t want it growing on the outside walls.