Don’t Mess With Nevada County

nevada countyuI moved to Nevada County five years ago after living in Sacramento for a decade and growing up in the Bay Area. One of the things that initially struck me about Nevada County was its perceivable lack of crime. I made jokes to my city friends that people were likely to read stories about lost dogs on the front page of The Union, Nevada County’s newspaper. I heralded the “lack of crime” in Nevada County. I bragged that Nevada County residents could easily pull into a grocery store parking lot and leave their keys in the ignition without fear that their car would be broken into or stolen.

Since living in Nevada County, I know better. Nevada County residents aren’t without crime. Crime happens in Nevada County. But Nevada County residents have something going for them that few communities in America can boast about: if you cross someone from Nevada County, the residents will pull together and find a way to persecute criminals. Nevada County doesn’t back down.

After a recent horrendous beating of a local church-goer, the Nevada County community pulled together in order to find the assailant and bring him to justice. It’s just the kind of thing that people in Nevada County do. It’s not that people in Nevada County don’t commit crimes; It’s that the majority of people in Nevada County don’t tolerate crimes. No crimes in Nevada County are committed without public outrage.

People talk to people. Neighbors talk to neighbors. And while awful things sometimes happen, the community outpour helps to mitigate what’s awful. Nevada County residents are ready to make sure that their communities are safe. They are ready to make sure that injustice is rectified. Nevada County fosters community in a way that few communities are familiar with. Many communities could learn something from Nevada County. In the meantime: don’t mess with us.

On the Bus, Off the Wagon

We spent the weekend in the city, in San Francisco.  We had the pleasure of visiting my partner’s best friend, a bartender, and his boyfriend, also a bartender.  Like all bartenders, they are aspiring to other titles but find the trade very lucrative.  It was a weekend of indulgence.

As a writer in the city, I couldn’t help but see the romance of the Beat Generation all around me.  As I watched Muni buses and cable cars pass, I thought about the honorary-Beatnik Tom Wolfe’s “Electric Kool-aid Acid Test” and considered his observations about what it means to be “on the bus,” a kind of commentary about living a purposed and held existence.  (As a San Francisco aside, the book is also the defining reference for the band-name “Furthur,” the Grateful Dead continuation band.)

Our friends live in an apartment with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge that most people only get to see in movies.  They live on the top floor and have roof access.  Getting to stay there was like being royalty, or, at the very least, like having a ton of money on prom night.

It was a stark contrast to my day to day.  My life aspires to a zero carbon footprint, or even higher.  My partner and I reuse almost everything we can, recycle what we can’t and have the wisdom to know the difference.  Like so many like us, we think about where our purchases come from, how many petroleum miles it took to get to us, and we forego a number of things due to its costly impact on the environment and future generations.  Coffee and chocolate always present a moral dilemma.

My partner and I adhered to almost none of it this weekend.  For one thing, we drove to the city.  We ate Thai food, with its off-season vegetables and imported delicacies.  We shopped, deciding on Spanish wine, even though we have some of the most esteemed wines nearby in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys, many of them organic and/or biodynamic.  We did, however, buy local cheese because the Cowgirl Creamery kicks ass, but we cancelled that out with a chunk of Spanish Manchego as well.  We had coffee and chocolate.  Our hosts spoiled us, insisting on paying for things we in no way could afford.  We obliged at every opportunity.

We did touristy things, even though our proximate upbringing didn’t warrant the need for it.  We had fallen completely off the conservation wagon.  We visited the Walt Disney Family Museum, a tribute to the life and art of Walt Disney—an amazingly beautiful tribute to both.  Every art aficionado should witness its splendor.   For me, the treasure of the museum is a letter from Diego Rivera to Walt Disney about the art and craft of cartoon drawings.  Not known to most people, Walt Disney was highly esteemed by his artist colleagues.  There is even a picture of him and Salvador Dali out boating together.  But whether for high-brow art experience or just for a day of childish fun, it is a museum not to be missed.  We also visited the Japanese Tea Gardens, which has one of the most amazing catalogues of bonsai and ornamental tree-crafting anywhere in the world.  The care and attention to detail that has gone into the maintenance of such wonder is without a single lack of detail.  The grounds make me want to aspire to a more meticulous gardener in my own doings.  I can’t say enough good things about both locations.  We took pictures in Golden Gate Park and sang in a tunnel near the Academy of Sciences.  We even found ourselves at a few bars, a couple of times at the Pilsner Inn.  What fun!  It was pure guilty-pleasure.

As a sustainability writer, I feel I should find a way to make an excuse for myself.  The liberal guilt should kick in at any second.  But I will be honest: I have no excuse and it was really, really fun.

I recently started reading “The Dirty Life” by Kristin Kimball.  At one point, the author, a New Yorker and self-proclaimed “city girl,” laments to her almost-husband about their state of “poverty.”  He aptly replies that, “We’re smart and capable people. We [Americans] live in the richest country in the world. There is food and shelter and kindness to spare. What in the world is there to be afraid of?”  If I ever needed a reminder of that, this weekend was it.

Due to unforeseen circumstance, my partner and I have lived on $16 for the past 3 weeks.  We dipped into our “apocalypse food supply,” eating canned food and dried beans and rice.  We recently moved so, having no vegetables planted in our own garden, have had to settle for the already-planted Swiss Chard for nearly every green vegetable at any meal.  High in iron though it may be, chard gets boring.  We recently branched out and foraged for Miner’s Lettuce for a green salad. Unforeseen poverty begs necessity.  Still, was a very nice salad.  And it was a good test of our foraging ability and food-storage choices.  We got bored but we didn’t go hungry.  We are truly blessed to live in the country of one of the greatest experiments of man and womankind.

This weekend’s adventure was the polar opposite to our sense of scarcity.  Our dear friends aren’t exactly the San Francisco Nuevo Riche.  They aren’t programmers or financiers.  The glorious apartment that they inhabit comes from a number of years working as the building manager, and a few moves as different apartments became available.  Our dear friends are very much “working class.”  But they are working class in a different sense of the term than I have recently come to know it.  What I understand now, that I maybe didn’t understand before, is that the working class in urban American, is much, much different than their counterparts in rural America.  Again from the book, “The Dirty Life,” Kristin Kimball notes that people in cities, even internationally, have more in common with each other than they do with their own rural countrymen.  I have to agree.

I worry about whether or not my just-planted lettuce made it through last week’s snow; our city friends worry about whether or not their cab driver is charging them a fair fare.

If I could file a single complaint about the view from their balcony, it would be the serious lack of foliage.  Aside from the trees along the sidewalks and a few parks in the distance, the color green was all but lost.  There were empty roof tops as far as the eye could see.

On Sunday, when we were reluctantly ending our stay with them, we had a lot to discuss.  I told them about the New York City transit that has started to maintain bus-top gardens, a project of New York City designer Marco Antonio Castro Cosio’s graduate thesis at the NYU.  The project and its foresight is, indeed, “on the bus” and (just for the fun of another literary cliché), pushing the envelope furthur.

For a city that is consistently ahead of the curve when it comes to progressive issues, I was very surprised to see the significant lack of edible or roof-top gardens, especially because the surrounding areas are so gung-ho about food security.  There was a glaring amount of unused space that could easily be put to productive food-growing, or, at the very least, made out to be a wonderful space for flowering plants and ferns.  Organizations like the Friends of The Urban Forest are working to bring San Francisco up to speed on the part of the “green revolution” that actually includes things that are green, but efforts towards growing have to involve the entire community and cannot fall on one organization or another.  We all have to take stock in “greening” our communities.

I will be glad to return to my rural home, a place of community involvement in all senses of the term, a place where so many things grow green that it has to be a part of everyday life.

By the end of our trip, I think I had convinced our hosts to work out a plan for a roof-top vegetable garden.  We had already pointed out several edible plants at the park where they held soft ball practice.  It may take some effort, but I have visions of sugar plums dancing in my head…or at least a few tomatoes.  For all the art that the city of San Francisco has to offer, there is a host of empty canvases on the roof tops of many buildings.  The possibilities for gardens are endless.

Lawlessness

Recently, many people have been prophesying about the fast-approaching end of the world. Billboards along major freeways warn of Christ’s second coming and have set the date for May 21st. People who follow the economy are expecting a bleak immediate future once some of the real impacts of the Japanese disaster become clear. With sky-rocketing gas and food prices, most American families have run into the wall known as “hard times.” But even for off-grid, independently-wealthy atheists, there is a storm on the horizon.

In a report by KCRA, a local Sacramento News station, Sacramento Police have openly criticized Sacramento’s budget plan for the next fiscal year. The Sacramento Bee also published an opinion piece by the California Peace Officer’s Association outlining what they see as a very serious budget short fall when it comes to public safety. Tara Golden, the cooridator for the Lavender Angels, a Sacramnto public safety group funded by the Midtown Business Association and composed of volunteers concerned about public safety, recently warned of public lawlessness in her personal blog. I am reposting the blog here with Tara Golden’s permission:

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A Warning of a Storm Approaching

I do not enjoy what I am writing right now. In fact, I have been putting this duty off for far too long. But it has become essential, due to recent events, that I finally sit down and pen this missive to those out there in the world that I care for.

I don’t claim to be anything other then what I am – a simple human being with some unique perspectives and experiences, but underneath it all… just me – which isn’t anything particularly worthy of any acclaim. I do not have advanced degrees in this subject. I have won no awards. I have not even spent any significant time working professionally in law enforcement. What I am, simply, is a concerned citizen who has been granted a small window into the world of “The Law.” But that small window has granted me a view that I think I need to share… because out that window I see a storm brewing that threatens to be the storm of the century.

Let me outline for you what I have seen and heard from professionals in the business, which are concerned enough to speak openly and candidly… which is, in itself somewhat disconcerting knowing their usual cautious natures and general reticence to reveal any situation that is not in the past and safely closed and sealed. What they have revealed to me, they have done freely and without any requests to not reveal what I have learned. I think they simply see that this information is available to anyone who is reading the signs in the sky, in the air, in the winds blowing.

What we are talking about is a complete break-down of something we have come to accept as a central pillar of our society. Ten years ago, if I had been asked what would be the first pillar of our society to fall I would have put money on the financial system, or maybe, as I toyed around with in a story I started to write, the electrical grid: our power based on limited, non-renewable resources. But both guesses would be wrong… although both are starting to crack under the strain of the weight of our society. What is shattering instead, is our legal system. And I am not one prone to fear or outbreaks of paranoid delusions – outside of the safe confines of literature; however, this has me frightened to the point where I am trying to remember a good night’s sleep free from nightmares. But, “forewarned is forearmed,” is the cliché pertinent to this situation. And I have been more and more assured of the fact that I must pass on the information that I have received so that those I care about can prepare for the coming storm. It is their safety and well-being that I am most concerned about and that haunts my sleep. So this is what I have to relate, take it as you will and do with it what you will. And, as a friend of mine, Captain of the SacPD Central Command says, “Good Luck.”

The first aspect of our law that is breaking down is our police force. They have been devastated due to cuts in their budgets. It seems that every day I read in the paper that more officers in cities around California have been laid off due to budgetary demands. Just today San Jose gave pink notices to over a hundred of their officers, and Stockton has had their forces decimated to the point that they are asking private individuals to help citizens form community patrols to keep some sort of order. And the other cities and municipalities of California are not far behind. Sacramento PD is just a short time away from a near-complete shut-down as well… and I cannot imagine life without those I have come to know and admire only a phone-call away to guard and protect us as Sacramento citizens.

The second aspect of our law that is breaking down is the court system. Our courts too have lost funding, and are over-booked with cases which they simply have no resources to deal with. And, our courts are also aware that there is no jail space for inmates. Therefore, their hands are tied and they generally try to plea bargain even the most heinous criminal’s sentences down. The honorable Judge Brown told us at the F.B.I. citizen’s academy that he sees a wave of criminals being turned loose back into the populace of our state simply because long jail terms are not possible in our current situation.

What is really troubling is the third aspect of our law that is falling apart: our jails. Our jails are full to capacity. And they too have faced cut-backs. There is also another problem looming. Our federal jails are now offering to pay for beds in the state and local jails. State and local criminals are not funded in this manner, therefore, in order to stay in the black, our jails – which have been privatized in many cases, are going to turn out state and local criminals in order to make space for beds paid for with this federal largesse. And, to make matters worse, the parole officers have also been cut, which means that many of the even violent criminals released will be unmonitored and be free for all intents and purposes other than a piece of paper stating them as parolees. In other words, a huge wave of violent inmates soon will be released back into our communities.

Combine the crumbling of these three aspects of our legal system and you have the perfect storm brewing which is soon to hit our communities. It is hard for me to even comprehend lawlessness. The closest I can come are the post-apocalyptical movies and some news footage of third-world countries which I have seen and been amazed by. To think of that coming to our communities, here in America, where my friends and family live and work… is difficult for me to even wrap my head around, and it is what keeps me up at night.

How do we even prepare for this coming storm? How do you prepare for something that is not even in our social paradigm? I do know that there are some who are beginning to consider private police-like agencies to try to take over… but the dangers of this are obvious. Mercenaries who are beholden only to those who are paying them are simply not an option.

The only other option that I can, with my limited imagination and intelligence, imagine is to train average citizens to form community watches and to police their own streets. But this too is fraught with inherent problems and conflicts of interests. But we simply have no other options. We must learn to stand up for ourselves and fill in the spots of the social net that is the basis of our civilization to protect our way of life, the safety of ourselves and our loved ones, and the entire democratic experiment that is America.

And maybe we need to learn to think small again. Rather then thinking about protecting the entire country that we live in, which boggles the mind, maybe instead we learn to think from small to large. Start by thinking how to protect our houses and immediate families. Think of how you are going to protect that in your heart and immediate lives. How is your house for security? Do you have ways to defend it? Do you have a way to contact each other at all times? How are your stock-piles of basic emergency supplies? Have you gone over emergency plans as a group?

Then start thinking about your immediate neighborhood. Do you know everyone on it? Do you have a neighborhood watch? Do you have a contact tree in case of emergency? Maybe it is time to talk to your neighbors and fill in whatever gaps exist in your neighborhood safety net.

Then, when all that is secure… how about your friends and family outside of your immediate vicinity.

It is this sort of outward moving circles of awareness that are necessary now. There is no more megalithic structure to provide you and yours with safety. It is time for us to do this for ourselves… and for those we care about.

I don’t know how this all going to turn out… what the final result of this set of circumstances will be. No one does, no matter how they may insist otherwise. We simply have never been here before. This is not a part of our cognitive map, and we will all have to learn on the fly. And, it isn’t going to be easy. But it is what faces us, and burying our heads under the covers and refusing to look at the coming storm will only leave us unprepared and unable to face the challenges facing us. It may just be a temporary situation, or it may be that it is the beginning of a new era that is outside of our abilities to even guess what the future holds.

But I have to maintain hope. I have to believe that we are in a time-period of change in our society and in our world. I have to believe that even though these changes may be frightening and brutal… the end results will be that we are a better, more aware community with a heightened social consciousness. I have to believe that history shows that positive change is always a brutal process and often bloody. Things do not end, they are reborn… and we are facing the end of some aspects of our culture and our historical period. What lies in the future? It is impossible to tell, but I believe it will be better… that we always, forever progress towards a better reality.

Either way, now is the time for conversation and planning and becoming forewarned and forearmed and I sincerely wish good luck to all, good luck to California and good luck to America.
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To get involved with the Lavender Angels, you may contact Tara Golden at: lavender.angels@saccenter.org

To get involved with your local Sacramento Neighborhood Association: http://www.cityofsacramento.org/ns/nadb/alpha.cfm

The Holiday Spirit

A woman was beaten by her husband outside my office building this morning. It took the police over 20 minutes to respond at 8am on a Monday morning, a seemingly slow crime period. A co-worker saw the incident from the window and, rather than turning a blind eye, or declining to get involved, she opened the door, invited the women into our office, got her a blanket and a warm cup of tea and called the police. The perpetrator lingered outside our locked office door while we waited for the police to arrive. We called later-arriving co-workers to inform them of the situation and keep them safe. The man was eventually taken into custody and the woman has made arrangements to stay somewhere safe.

This story could have had a number of different endings. My co-worker may have saved someone’s life today. She certainly opened her heart and made someone a little more safe than she was before. With the lag time of the police, had the woman not been able to take shelter in our office, who knows what might have happened.

This time of year is famous for the kindness of strangers. Around the holidays, there are magical moments when we tend to be more patient, when we hold doors open and when we think about the possibility of kindness in all people. I am proud to say that I work with people who are forward thinking and who care. I know the same steps would have been taken, as they were this morning ,at any other time of year.

I think about the holiday spirit a lot. It has nothing to do with baubles and ribbons. It has nothing to do with Hallmark ornaments. It certainly has nothing to do with shopping. As I dug the decoration boxes out of storage this year and went through them, I found myself ashamed looking at the trinkets and wares–the ghosts of Christmas past, that I’m still paying off from the year or years before, that are no doubt part of our country’s debt to China which may result in our two countries nuking each other. In short, the holiday spirit can’t be found in a box.

The holiday spirit is about bringing one’s soul congruent with what one needs rather than what one wants. Sure, the shopping season is about wants. The true spirit of the holidays, however, happens when families gather, when candles are lit, when blessing are counted and when bread is broken with community. It’s about opening one’s heart to all the possibilities this universe has to offer and extending a hand to our fellow man.

As the institutions we have in place to keep us safe (police, firefighters etc.) break down, we will have to rely on the kindness of strangers more and more. As we move forward this new year, let us all be those strangers. Let us be the example of the holiday spirit each and every day.

Thinking Off-Road

I am a breed of Sacramentan know as a “Bay Area Transplant.” I grew up in the suburban riches of the eastern San Francisco Bay Area and, like many of my generation, realized that I would never attain the income level to be able to, at the same time, feed myself and live anywhere near where I grew up. I moved to the city of Sacramento nearly ten years ago when I attended college at UC Davis and I never left. There are lots of us and it makes holiday travel hell. One year, it took over four hours to travel a little over 60 miles to my parent’s house in Concord, CA. This past Thanksgiving holiday, rather than falling in line with the holiday standard, I decided to think off-road: I took the train.

I was surprised at how many empty seats there were on the train on Thanksgiving. Amtrak runs several trains a day from Sacramento to the Bay Area and back again. The rates are very reasonable, about $20, one-way. There are two lines, the “Capitol Corridor” and the “Coast Starlight.” The Capitol Corridor is a commuter train and the line tends to be more reliable for timeliness as the Coast Starlight is a travel train that runs from Chicago. The Amtrak station is downtown at I and 6th streets, on the other side of the freeway from Old Sacramento. Parking in the Amtrak parking lot costs $9 per day but light rail drops off at the station and cars can pull into the parking lot without a fee to drop off passengers. You can purchase tickets online before your trip or right there at the station before you board. To board, you walk out onto the platform behind the station, look at the marquee for your train, which is indicated by the final stop of the line (so you’ll have to know your train’s final destination) and board when the train arrives and the doors open. Tickets are retrieved once the train has departed; an Amtrak representative will come by to your seat and punch a hole in your ticket. An announcement is made before each stop so you have plenty of time to prepare to detrain.

Train rides are relaxing and romantic. The train from Sacramento to Martinez (and further) provides breath-taking views of the valley farmland and bay marshes. Train stations are located in fairly easily accessible parts of town. Because I had agreed to help cook, I had an extra bag with me and my dad picked me up but I could have ridden my bike or taken the bus from the station to my final destination. One thing is certain: the train saved me from the headache of holiday traffic and was a terrific alternative way to travel.

As gas becomes a more and more scarce commodity, and we are forced to think off-road about how we travel, I think that we will really regret our failure to nourish the rail system. In many towns that once flourished with trains and railroads, the tracks are either over-grown or paved over. Sacramento has a rich railroad history. At the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento, there is a map of the incredible infrastructure of what was once a healthy, viable form of transportation. The lines of rail travel have dwindled to a mere fraction of what they once were. As we move forward, I hope rail becomes a priority for all infrastructure planning. For now, I plan to do my part by taking the train as much as possible.

(For those living in Sacramento, there is a great article in this month’s Sac Town Magazine by Rob Turner called “Imagineering Downtown.” It’s about the development of the rail yards and shouldn’t be missed.)

Sacramento Area Mall Catches Fire, Consumers are Aghast

The big news in the Sacramento area last week was that the beloved Roseville Galleria caught fire and much of this giant shopping mall burnt down. We lost a large number of retailers including Nordstrom, Burberry, Abercrombie, scores of boutique stores and, perhaps the most tragic, the As Seen on TV store. Those of us that live in the area know that Roseville is a typical American suburb, a tribute to white-flight and mass consumption and the mall was pretty much the city’s most significant place of worship. While the city offers an old town square, full of small merchants and empty store fronts, the well-to-dos that live in Roseville don’t frequent mom and pop shops. And the not-so-well-to-dos shop at the Wal-Mart.

The fire was started by a young man who barricaded himself in a Game Stop and set fire to a nearby establishment while claiming he had a bomb. The fire spread quickly while law enforcement tried to negotiate with him and, by the time he surrendered, the fire marshal declared the building unsafe for firefighters to enter and much of the mall burnt down. It is unclear what this young man’s motivations were for such a dramatic presentation but rumors tribute his erratic behavior to a missing paycheck and an unpleasant parting with one of the Galleria retailers.

This story could have had so many angles in the coverage by the local and national corporate media. (Yes, the gravity of this terrible situation was so gripping that the story hit national news.) The media could have talked about the current pulse of the American working man and the terror that people feel from this economy crashing. The media could have talked about the desperate measures that this young man took and how young people are feeling hopeless about the future. The media could have talked about the calamity of job loss at a mall and how it would disproportionately affect women and people of color because those are the people who work at the mall. No. Instead the media predominantly focused on the terrible timing of the “tragedy” and how it would affect holiday shopping.
The real tragedy is that the night before the mall burnt down, the River City Food Bank burnt down. The central hub of Sacramento’s food distribution for the needy was lost in the same way the mall was but hardly a drop of ink was spilled on that story compared to the massive news coverage that the mall received.

The River City Food Bank in Sacramento was created in 1968 by the community for the community with the simple philosophy that no one should be hungry. According to their website, www.rivercityfoodbank.org, “The River City Food Bank is the only Sacramento Area Food Bank open every week day to anyone experiencing hunger from anywhere in Sacramento County.” In addition to maintaining a food closet, the establishment offers referral services, nutritional classes and counseling services at no cost to the recipient. The Bank provides services for a spectrum of people including those that are chronically needy as well as one-time clients who come in after facing a set-back such as an unexpected car repair or medical expense. The Bank has a small number of staff but is primarily powered by volunteers. After their facility burnt down and the food bank lost everything, Sutter Hospital offered River City Food Bank an empty office space to continue services and Goodwill lent a truck in which to store donations in the interim while they prepare the new space for clients.

Like many cities across this nation, Sacramento has seen its hungry, needy and homeless population increase exponentially in recent years. The tent cities erected on the banks of the American and Sacramento Rivers were so compelling that it brought Oprah out to the area to capture the human desolation on camera. Since Oprah’s visit, the tent cities have been disbanded (by force, per city non-camping laws), but folks are worse-off and poverty has spread. Unfortunately, while the population of those in need grows, the attitudes towards those in need haven’t evolved much. Law enforcement in the Sacramento area is known to harass and arrest the homeless people simply for sleeping and, aside from the usual holiday giving, the food closets barely stay afloat from local donations. There are few organizations and individuals who can be counted on to answer the call when a need arises in the community.

The few organizations and individuals who can be counted on, however, can be counted on absolutely. With a little help from social media, the community response to the terrible loss of the River City Food bank was swift and concise. Local activists assembled a team of volunteers and organized a food drive outside of the locally-owned Sacramento Natural Foods co-op. After only 8-hours of volunteering on the last weekend of the month, volunteers were able to drop off over 1,000 pounds of food and $500.

With the holidays quickly approaching, the unemployment levels stagnant and the very real threat of massive inflation and sky-rocketing food prices, the need for healthy community food banks is evident. It is vital to contribute to the life support systems in place and to continue to build the health and connections in local communities. As for the people in Roseville, they are working around the clock to try and have the mall reopened by Black Friday.