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Tarplant or Alternatives to the Automobile?

tom_honig_sWhat is environmentalism? Does the word encourage learning about the natural world, or is it more about not building on that vacant lot near my own home?

This issue is playing out again in that undeveloped area between Santa Cruz and Live Oak known as the Arana Gulch greenbelt. It’s a fascinating battle, one that pits environmentalists versus environmentalists—cycling advocates versus those opposed to any development there at all.

Center stage in the drama is the Santa Cruz Tarplant, a native species that’s part of the sunflower family. The inoffensive and endangered plant is the focus of a debate as to whether a bike path connecting Brommer Street to Broadway ought to be built.

Bikers, and those who favor alternative transportation, say that the tarplant can be protected and just look at how a bike path would encourage alternatives to the automobile. Those who are opposed say that the tarplant must be encouraged and that a bike path would do tremendous damage.

The Coastal Commission went against the recommendation of its own staff and put a hold on construction of the bike path. Commissioners said they’re sensitive to the concerns of the tarplant protectors, and they want more study indicating that there must be alternatives.

Sit down and read the Coastal Commission staff reports. Then read the arguments put forward by anti bike-pathers. You’ll come to this conclusion: this is not a tough one. Approve the damn path.

Here’s why.  It’s NIMBYism. The not-in-my-backyarders are the ones citing the tarplant situation, and most of us know that what they really don’t want is more people coming through on their bikes. Do you really think that the majority of these folks were concerned about the tarplant until they discovered the political advantages of a federally designated endangered species?

Imagine, for example, if scientists discovered that extra traffic across the greenbelt would be good for the tarplant. Do you think local opponents would in turn welcome the increased traffic? Of course not.

The proposal for the bike-path project is more far-reaching and environmentally conscious than the opponents would have you believe. If, for example, there’s an environmentalist value on making the public more aware of Arana Gulch’s value, the proposed project makes tremendous sense.

It’s about more than a bike path. As the Coastal Commission staff points out in a recent report, “… one of the primary objectives of the proposed project is to maximize opportunities to educate, inform, and inspire users of the trail system so as to enhance their enjoyment of Arana Gulch and its resources, and possibly more importantly to encourage them to take action to help protect such resources here and elsewhere.”

Just about any outdoors person worth his hiking boots would agree with that assessment.

There’s a bigger issue, one that extends beyond Arana Gulch. The fight and the ensuing Coastal Commission delay only underscore the reputation of Santa Cruz as a place where nothing can get done. Why even try to start a project here when it’s bound to result in controversy, lawsuits and dithering by public officials?

Santa Cruz needs jobs. Santa Cruz needs an image upgrade—right now, it’s known for protests, delay and indecision. This Arana Gulch debate— to those on the outside—elicits a shake of the head, a wry smile and a well-honed comment: “There they go again in Santa Cruz.”

It gets worse. Environmental battles actually backfire when they become this silly. You can even take this point to a global scale—it’s partly why so much of the general public has trouble believing facts about climate change.

Too many self-styled conservationists have made specious complaints about possible damage to the environment. For years, too many people have warned about dire impacts that frankly haven’t really come true. The general public hears warnings about everything from ozone holes down to endangered tarplants or long-toe salamanders and they start thinking that these are all empty warnings.

Of course, they’re not all empty warnings, but it becomes difficult to distinguish between selfish, NIMBY arguments and true scientific research.

That’s why increasing public access to Arana Gulch is a good thing, despite what opponents say. A multi-use trail with such things as interpretive signs and maintenance to enhance the native plant environmental actually will do more to protect the land than just ignoring it.

It’s a shame that the debate has degenerated. Worse, it’s a shame that the Coastal Commission officials didn’t rely on their staff and instead caved in to the noise of those who want to keep people out of Arana Gulch.


Contact Tom Honig at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Comments (3)Add Comment
...
written by kit, March 29, 2010
The problem from the very beginning is that the City of Santa Cruz proposed an inappropriate solution to the problem of east/west access. It's a no-brainer that the bike path should go through the edge of Frederick Street Park and down through the Harbor access to connect Broadway to Brommer. Where is the outrage at the stupidity of city planners from the onset? We all want the best for this beautiful piece of coastal prairie heaven, we all want the tarplant to thrive, we all want safe bicycle paths. The fact is: The City of Santa Cruz failed us and spent lots of our taxpayer money on a blockhead plan to build roads through endangered habitat area. So then, let's all get on the same page and work up a plan that works for us all, bicyclists, tarplant, environmentalists, everyone.
...
written by don fong, March 28, 2010
Tom, i suppose then in your mind that the Sierra Club, the California Native Plant Society, and the Center for Biological Diversity are a bunch of NIMBY's?? go figure! to me, this constant harping on the irrelevant, ridiculously inaccurate, and easily refutable "NIMBY" accusation, is a sign of desperation on the part of project supporters.

it helps to look at cui bono here. on one side of this controversy, you have people pleading for protection of another species. on the other side, you have a group of bicyclists clamoring for (big surprise) something that benefits them.

you're right about one thing, though. when it comes to a choice between the convenience of humans (including bicyclists), vs the survival of an endangered species, it shouldn't be a tough one for any environmentalist.

it's also worth remembering that many bicyclists oppose the B-B project on environmental grounds. over the years, as a former member of "people power", i advocated for many bike lane projects. usually, bike lanes can't be installed without inconveniencing motorists (narrower or fewer car lanes) or residents and merchants (loss of on-street parking). at the time, i argued that we all have to make sacrifices for the sake of the environment. unf "people power" has undermined that principle. by their actions, they have damaged the cause of bicycling, by giving up the moral high ground. they have made bicyclists look like just another self-serving special interest group.

bravo to the coastal commision.
The tarplant is protected by everyone
written by Michael A. Lewis, March 25, 2010
Just a few niggly details, Tom.

The Santa Cruz tarplant, Holocarpha macradenia, is a federally threatened and California endangered species, meaning it is protected by the State of California and the United States of America. Not NIMBYs.

Under the California Coastal Act, it is illegal to build a transportation project in an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA). The Broadway-Brommer Bicycle Pedestrian Path is a transportation project. Arana Gulch is an ESHA by the City's own Local Coastal Program.

The California Coastal Commission administers and enforces the California Coastal Act. They did their job properly and legally.

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