The repeated acts of vandalism directed against the Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar pose a difficult problem. One hypothetical solution is a webcam. A properly set up webcam would probably deter vandals by its mere presence. If the perpetrators were ignorant or reckless enough to commit their destruction anyway, the webcam would document the act and assist in identifying them.
One problem with a webcam is to find a location. The location needs to have electrical power, which is absent nearly everywhere in the park. And it needs to have enough elevation to oversee the solar calendar, which is on the highest or one of the highest hills in the park. And it should be inconspicuous, blending with the existing features of the park.
Fortunately, there is such a location. In the eastern center of the park, not far from the dog run billboard, is a fenced enclosure housing the landfill gas venting system. That’s the one with the leaning rusty Tower of Pisa. It turns out that the top of the tower is totally visible from the solar calendar, meaning that the solar calendar is totally visible from the top of the tower.
Here’s a shot taken a few steps from the solar calendar’s gnomon looking due east, showing the top of the gas vent tower.
That looks very far away at this wide-angle camera setting. But with a modest telephoto lens set at 30x magnification from the same spot, the top of the tower comes much closer and reveals significant detail. If a person were on the tower it would be fairly easy to identify them:
Obviously, then, if a camera with a 30x telephoto lens were mounted at the location of the gas vent tower, and aimed at the solar calendar, it would be a big step forward to seeing exactly what is happening at the solar calendar. Lenses more powerful than 30x are also widely available.
Not that the camera could be mounted on the gas vent tower. The tower is basically a furnace that burns off the landfill gases emitted by the decomposing garbage under the skin of grass and shrubbery. The tower is hot. But a simple radio-antenna type tower of about the same height as the gas vent tower could be erected inside or next to the existing fence enclosure. It would be inconspicuous. The gas venting system inside the enclosure has electric power to run its pumps. It would then be a fairly routine task for an electrical wiz to hook up a webcam and connect it to the Internet.
Once that is done, volunteers could log onto the webcam and keep a live eye on the solar calendar area. And camera output could be recorded and played back in case of an incident. One could mount a sign at the solar calendar, “Smile, you’re on camera.” But if the vandals were too stupid or wasted to pay attention, they would be stars in a movie that could play at their trial in court.
Quite apart from that use, a webcam would come in handy for potential park visitors who want to know what the weather is like at the park. Frequently the park has its own weather, very different from other parts of Berkeley. And it could be a fantastic place for shutins to watch one of the world’s great stages for sunsets. And with a few add-ons the tower could improve cell phone service all over the park, an important security feature.
The Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar deserves protection. Years of effort, much thought and talent, and considerable sums of money have gone into it. It is one of the star attractions of the whole park. Something needs to be done to stop the vandalism that is gradually reducing the project to rubble. Maybe a webcam is a solution worth considering.