Archive for March, 2012

Water sheets down Seeger Dam as Nicasio Reservoir overflows.

A week after Nicasio Reservoir overflowed March 13, county supervisors declared an agricultural emergency because of drought conditions afflicting Marin ranches. The supervisors’ resolution declaring the emergency is the first step toward getting federal aid for ranchers.

Marin County Agricultural Commissioner Stacey Carlsen told the supervisors rainfall at many dairy and livestock ranches has been 31 percent of normal. The low rainfall combined with unseasonably warm weather, strong winds, and frosty mornings has dried out grass and inhibited new growth, the agricultural  commissioner explained.

The forage losses in pastures and rangelands are roughly 50 percent, he estimated. This has forced ranchers to reduce herd sizes and to buy supplemental feed far earlier in the year than usual, Carlsen said. The cost of feed is continuing to rise, the agricultural commissioner noted, and this is having a severe impact on Marin ranches. This county’s ranches, he said, are already operating with narrow margins.

Nicasio Reservoir water rushes down the spillway below Seeger Dam and flows into nearby Papermill Creek.

Notwithstanding the drought affecting ranches, the big water districts in West Marin report they’re doing just fine, thank you very much. Already this month, West Marin has received almost 15 inches of rain. As of a week ago, Marin Municipal Water District’s seven reservoirs stood at 94 percent of capacity compared with 91 percent at this date in an average year.

Even before this weekend’s rainstorms, Libby Pischel, spokeswoman for Marin Municipal, told me, “We are not expecting any rationing [this year].” The MMWD system serves homes and businesses in the San Geronimo Valley and in most of East Marin south of Novato.

Novato-based North Marin Water District operates a satellite system serving Point Reyes Station, Inverness Park, and Olema. It gets its water for the system from wells beside Papermill Creek upstream from the Coast Guard housing site in Point Reyes Station. Most of the water feeding the wells originates in two MMWD reservoirs: Nicasio Reservoir seasonally and Lake Lagunitas year round. A small amount originates in San Geronimo Creek.

North Marin General Manager Chris DeGabriele on Friday told me, “We are not expecting any water restrictions next summer in West Marin.”

Despite there being plenty of water to satisfy homes and businesses in three small towns, as well as fish in the creeks, there is not nearly enough to irrigate hundreds of square miles of ranchland — even if there were pipelines for doing so. Hence the agricultural emergency.

Point Reyes Station’s “birth can be pinpointed: Jan. 7, 1875, the day the first train came through on its way to Tomales,” the late historian Jack Mason of Inverness wrote in Earthquake Bay, A History of Tomales Bay, California (North Shore Books, 1976).

The train’s “first sightseers viewed Olema Station (its name for seven years) with unbelieving dismay. ‘The depot is in a wilderness!’ one of them wrote. And so it was — 11 acres of Mary Black Burdell’s cow pasture: no hotel, no sandwich stand or saloon.

“To reach Olema two miles distant, where many were headed, was well nigh impossible, with Papermill Creek to cross and no bridge or stageline,” Mason wrote. Back then Olema, whose downtown was much larger than it is today, was the commercial hub for the foot of Tomales Bay. It boasted two restaurants, two hotels, six bars, a racetrack, a school, a Catholic Church, and a Druids Hall.

In less than a year, a bridge providing access to Olema was built across Papermill Creek, but by that time, Mason observed, “passengers had a hotel nearer at hand …. ‘with the only saloon serving a vast and thirsty land.'” The hotel and saloon, which Dr. Galen Burdell built, were right across the street from the train depot.

Dr. Galen Burdell’s saloon.

Mary Black Burdell was married to dentist Galen Burdell and was the daughter of rancher James Black of Nicasio. Black Mountain, which provides the backdrop for Point Reyes Station, is named after him. In 1961, the site of Black’s ranch house was inundated by the completion of Nicasio Reservoir, but whenever the reservoir runs dry during droughts, the house’s foundation can still be seen on the western shore.

When the train depot opened in Mary Black Burdell’s pasture, Black had been leasing land nearby to former Sheriff James T. Stocker, who operated a dairy ranch on it. Today, “Stocker’s ranch site is marked by the cypress trees right across Highway 1 from Campolindo Road and [by] a couple of fruit trees,” Dewey Livingston, the reigning historian of Inverness, told me. “They all overlooked Tomasini Creek.” This this no doubt explains why Tomasini Canyon, where the old sump was located, for years was known as Stocker’s Gulch.

In the area around the depot, Mrs. Burdell gave her husband 950 acres of land she had inherited. The property would become the site of Point Reyes Station, and until the dentist’s death in 1906, “the town was his plaything,” wrote Mason. “By 1880, Burdell’s Station, as some called it, had all the appurtenances of civilization: a blacksmith shop, livery stable and butcher shop.”

A small school was erected in 1879, but in 1905 it was replaced by Black School (above), which was named after Mary Burdell’s father. The wooden, two-story structure was located where the firehouse is today.

The first store in town was built in 1883 at Second and A Streets by A.P. Whitney and Company of Petaluma but was sold four years later to Salvatore Grandi. The “Swiss farmer,” as Mason described Grandi, turned the business into a general store called Grandi’s Mercantile Company.

(It should be noted there is no street named Main Street in Point Reyes Station. The correct name for the main street is A Street — or, if you prefer, Highway 1.)

The first post office opened on May 23, 1882, and the town changed names from Olema Station to Point Reyes the same day. The town’s name changed again — to Point Reyes Station — on Aug. 10, 1891, so its mail wouldn’t accidentally be sent to the post office at F Ranch on Point Reyes.

As Dr. Burdell developed Point Reyes Station, he wrote a covenant into the deeds for all the lots he sold, prohibiting anyone else from operating a saloon in town. Grandi, however, broke Dr. Burdell’s monopoly by opening a second saloon in 1902. The dentist sued, but in 1907 the state supreme court ruled in Grandi’s favor; Dr. Burdell, however, had died the previous year.

Grandi himself already had competition of his own to contend with. In 1898, one of his clerks, Peter Scilacci, opened a general store further north on A Street. Scilacci’s emporium was bigger than Grandi’s and included a livery stable and a grain warehouse.

The Bank of Tomales in 1910 bought land on the main street for a branch; over time, the bank would relocate and go through several ownerships and name changes en route to becoming a branch of Wells Fargo. Just before World War I, the Foresters of America built a hall, which still stands on Mesa Road just north of the Old Creamery building. In 1914, a small Catholic Church opened on B Street.

The masonry-built Grandi Company building had collapsed in the 1906 earthquake, and Grandi replaced it with a wooden building that is “now the upper story of the Western [Saloon],” Livingston told me. Two years later, Grandi retired and sold his nephew Reno Grandi and Reno’s partner Joe Codoni property across Second Street from the wood building. There they built the large, brick Grandi Building, which is now unfortunately empty and in disrepair.

The main street of Point Reyes Station in 1920 with the brick Grandi Building at left and the depot at right.

In its heyday, the Grandi Company sold everything from pianos to cattle feed, and in time it developed a policy of never raising the price on goods once they were in stock. Some items, such as stove-heated irons for ironing clothes, remained in stock for decades.

The upstairs of the Grandi Building was a hotel, along with a dance hall. The hotel was mostly used by railroad men, but lieutenant-colonel Dwight Eisenhower stayed there in 1940, just 12 years before he was President Eisenhower. For awhile the town’s telephone switchboard was in the hotel’s lobby. “The hotel closed around 1950,” Mason wrote.

The narrow-gauge railroad, which had been built to carry lumber from Cazadero in Sonoma County to the ferry docks in Sausalito and to return with supplies from San Francisco, was never profitable. It was reorganized several times and eventually became part of the Northwestern Pacific. But the advent of competition from trucks for hauling cargo and from cars for carrying people was too much for the railroad.

In 1920, the NWP converted the track east of Point Reyes Station to standard gauge. (It took the narrow gauge 477 cars to haul what the standard gauge could haul with 198.) But the new arrangement turned out to be inconvenient. Cargo passing through Point Reyes Station had to be unloaded from narrow-gauge cars and onto standard-gauge cars or vice versa.

In 1930, the narrow-gauge line to the north closed down, and in 1933, the standard-gauge line to the east followed suit. For a time, old rail cars were stored in Point Reyes Station, but many were eventually burned. The old engine house became a community center, and the depot is now the town post office.

I am indebted to historian Jack Mason’s Earthquake Bay  for much of the foregoing information.

Once in awhile, I let others use this space to address issues of particular concern to them. This week’s contributor is Dr. Corey Goodman of Marshall, a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Corey was the first to reveal that the Point Reyes National Seashore administration was using bogus data in trying to build a case for kicking Drakes Bay Oyster Company out of the park.

Now he has revealed more Park Service shenanigans in its handling of public comments on an environmental-impact statement about whether the oyster company should be allowed to stay in the park.

— — —

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” — Sir Walter Scott

By Dr. Corey Goodman

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) got turned on its head recently when the National Park Service released a partial analysis of the public comments received in response to the draft Environmental Impact Statement concerning the fate of the oyster farm in Point Reyes National Seashore.

The Citizen’s Guide to NEPA, published by the Council on Environmental Quality (part of the White House), wrote: “It is important to understand that commenting on a proposal is not a “vote” on whether the proposed action should take place.” Dr. John Felleman, a NEPA scholar at State University of New York, wrote concerning the intent of the public comment period: “The intent is to assess the adequacy of the data, alternatives, and analyses, not to have an opinion poll.”

Nevertheless, the park triggered just such an opinion poll.  In an action that appears to be unprecedented, the park released a partial “preliminary content analysis report” of the National Park Service’s draft environmental impact statement, telling the community that there were more than 52,000 public comments, and that more than 47,000 of them were for Alternative A – elimination of the oyster farm.

Although the park analysis contained lots of numbers about the geography and origins of the comments, what was conspicuously absent was what is most obvious when one first examines them – more than 90 percent of the comments are duplicate form letters (sent by email).

No surprise, within minutes of the Park press release, Neal Desai of the National Parks Conservation Association and Amy Trainer of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin concluded, based upon Park Service analysis, that 92 percent of the public comments favored eliminating the oyster farm from Point Reyes, and proclaimed that “the people have spoken.”

A week later, on March 9, 2012, the Marin IJ published an editorial on the 52,000 public comments, and wrote: “Both sides in this battle have well-funded advocacy groups that can generate letters, postcards and e-mails in support of their cause.”  Given the intervening week, it is too bad the Marin IJ didn’t dig a bit deeper into the origin of those comments to determine how they were generated, and thus how the public was spun by NPS and its supporters.

Last week, The Point Reyes Light and The West Marin Citizen newspapers reported, based on analysis from Sarah Rolph and me, that 86 percent of those comments were duplicate emails generated by mass emails from four environmental organizations: Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), and the National Wildlife Foundation (NWF).

These groups’ emails misinformed people, falsely claiming environmental harm where no such data exists, and asked the recipients to click — over and over again — to send pre-written messages that advocated evicting the oyster farm.

The Park Service released those biased numbers completely unfiltered.  Such behavior was contrary to NEPA guidance and irresponsible of the Park Service and the NGOs.

Reporting that 86 percent of 52,000 comments were click-and-send form letters was an under-estimate.  Further computer analysis revealed another 2,445 comments (5 percent) were fragments of form letters.  The total based upon form letters was thus nearly 91 percent

Desai of NPCA correctly pointed out that pro-oyster farm supporters also submitted several hundred form letters, but these amounted to fewer than 1 percent vs. his side’s 91 percent.  These numbers are a wee bit more one-sided than the Marin IJ editorial led readers to think when it stated both sides “…have well-funded advocacy groups that can generate letters …”

The spikes in the graph correspond to the days that four groups sent out mass emails that asked recipients to click on a button which would send an email to the Park Service urging it to get rid of the oyster company. The responses came from throughout the United States although according to National Seashore figures, 70 percent of the two million people who visit the park annually come from the nine-county Bay Area. That would suggest that most of the emails came from people who had no direct knowledge of the oyster farm.

If all duplicate form letters are eliminated, from all sides, less than 5,000 comments remain, of which many are duplicates.  For example, Rick Johnson, an NPS supporter, was counted nine times. Nevertheless, if those 5,000 comments are surveyed, over 80 percent support renewing the oyster farm lease while less than 20 percent support eliminating it.

That is a far cry from the 92 percent for eliminating the farm announced by Trainer of the EAC and Desai. Perhaps the people have spoken, just not in the way Trainer and Desai misled the community to believe.

A challenge to the park: do a better analysis. Since the park has already turned NEPA on its head by releasing a partial analysis, let’s encourage them to at least do the right analysis.  Release another count without form letters – or form letter fragments — from both sides.  Count only original letters; count each person once.

If the majority favors renewal of the lease, as our analysis shows, then you and your supporters owe the community the truth and an apology for misleading us.

Monday afternoon I stopped by the Point Reyes Station Library to borrow a copy of Earthquake Bay by the late historian Jack Mason of Inverness. The librarian helped me find the book, but when I went to check it out, he caught me.

My library card had expired. I was trying to borrow a book with an out-of-date ID, which made me feel like a motorist who had been caught driving with an expired license. Luckily I was able to get a free new card issued on the spot.

As the librarian looked over the title of the history book, he asked, “Does this have anything to do with what happened last night?” I said no, not knowing what he was referring to.

But when I got home, I checked The Marin Independent Journal and learned that a 3.5 magnitude quake had occurred near El Cerrito at 5:33 a.m. followed immediately by a 4.0 magnitude quake. The quakes were followed by a 2.0 aftershock at 6:03 a.m. and a 1.2 aftershock at 6:29 a.m.

The first two quakes were only eight seconds apart, and apparently many people experienced them as one temblor. I slept through them, but my girlfriend Lynn Axelrod was awakened by the jolting, she later told me.

Forty-two of the deaths in the Loma Prieta Earthquake occurred in Oakland when the Cypress Street Viaduct of Interstate 880 collapsed.

I’ve gone through some major earthquakes, but all of them were centered far enough away that I wasn’t personally affected. I was in the former newsroom of The Point Reyes Light when the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta quake struck on Oct. 17, 1989, killing 63 people in other parts of the Bay Area.

Although I felt the quake, it didn’t worry me, but one reporter gave a shout and dashed downstairs and out into the street. As it happened, the only significant damage in West Marin was a break in Highway 1 on a steep slope south of Stinson Beach. That closed the highway between Stinson Beach and Muir Beach for a year and a half while Caltrans rebuilt the roadway.

Vehicles stranded when an Interstate 5 overpass collapsed during the Northridge Earthquake.

The 1994 Northridge quake centered in Los Angeles killed 57 people. While it registered a respectable magnitude of 6.7, its ground acceleration was one of the highest ever registered in urban North America. However, we in West Marin didn’t feel a thing.

I had always heard that many animals can sense an imminent earthquake, and this makes them antsy. As it happened, at 11 a.m. on Jan. 26, 1980, I was home writing The Light on Synanon when I paused to look out the window at a herd of horses grazing in a neighboring field.

The next thing I knew the magnitude 5.5 Livermore Earthquake struck, so I kept watching the horses to see how they were reacting. The ground beneath their hooves went up and down, but the horses never looked up from their grazing. That made me suspicious of the old wives’ tale about animals anticipating earthquakes.

The following year, I had a chance to further test my suspicion. From mid-1981 to mid-1983, I took a sabbatical from The Point Reyes Light and worked as a reporter for the old San Francisco Examiner. I was barely on the job when on Sept. 4, 1981,  a magnitude 5.3 earthquake centered on Santa Barbara Island  occurred.

The city editor told me to get on the phone and see if I could come up with information to supplement wire service reports. The only facility on the island is a dock, and often the only human is a not-always-available Park Service ranger, so I was left having to call people on the mainland.

Checking the phone book, I noticed there is a stable in Santa Barbara County that looks across the Pacific to the Channel Islands, of which Santa Barbara Island is the smallest. I called the stable. “Did your horses do anything unusual before the quake struck?” I asked. “Nothing at all,” said the stable manager.

That confirmed my suspicion, but my editors didn’t think my discovery added much to the earthquake story and didn’t use it.

The 1906 Earthquake turned the Grandi Mercantile Company building in Point Reyes Station into a pile of rubble.

The real earthquake story of West Marin is, of course, the 1906 quake that struck at 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906. While the epicenter was south of the Golden Gate, the greatest land movement was in Olema. The levee road across the Olema marsh was offset by 20 feet, which accounts for the present-day jog in the roadway.

The quake killed roughly 3,000 people and, along with the resulting fire, devastated much of San Francisco, where most of the deaths occurred. The true number is unknown because the deaths of hundreds of people in Chinatown went unrecorded.

Buildings also collapsed in North Bay cities such as Petaluma and especially Santa Rosa, where 64 people died. To the south, San Jose received a tremendous shake that resulted in the deaths of 102 people.

In Point Reyes Station, the quake tipped over the 5:15 a.m. passenger train three minutes before it was scheduled to depart for Sausalito.

In Inverness, the Martinelli store collapsed and the log-cabin post office crumpled. Houses fell off their foundations, and water mains broke. In Olema, the current of the creek temporarily reversed direction.

At Bear Valley Ranch, where the National Seashore headquarters are now, a barn straddling the faultline was torn in two while land around it was offset by more than 15 feet. A fissure opened up, and a cow fell into it, leaving only its tail sticking out when the fissure closed. Although many people considered this story a hoax, the 1906 Earthquake Commission concluded it was true.

In Bolinas, the hotel on Wharf Road toppled into the bay, and many homes were destroyed.

Tomales’ new Catholic Church collapsed.

One of the odder incidents occurred in Marshall. Stanford University president David Starr Jordan in a report on the earthquake noted the Marshall Hotel slid into the bay while remaining upright. None of the boarders were hurt, and the drop was said to have been so gentle that people looking out the windows had the impression Tomales Bay had suddenly risen around them.

The 1906 Earthquake, which resulted from movement along the San Andreas Fault, is not likely to ever be forgotten in West Marin. The fault runs down the middle of Tomales Bay, through the Olema Valley, and out to sea at Bolinas Lagoon. No wonder earthquake preparedness is a major concern of the West Marin Disaster Council.