Park News 4/5/2024

Days of Tribute to Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta

Photo source Wikipedia

March 31 and April 10 mark the birthdays of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, together the two most influential figures reshaping today’s industrial agriculture and educating the modern consumer about farm products. Chavez and Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, later known as the United Farm Workers (UFW).  They led numerous strikes and boycotts to demand better wages, working conditions, and rights for farmworkers, among the most marginalized and exploited groups in American society.  

Before the successes of the UFW, farm workers worked as little better than peons or prisoners. Land owners forced them to use the back-breaking “el cortito,” the short-handed hoe, and exposed them without protection to spraying of pesticides.  Farmworkers had no contracts, no health benefits, no unemployment benefits, no protection against sexual harassment, no rest breaks, no field toilets, no clean drinking water, no pension plans, nothing.  

In the face of fierce and often brutal opposition, the union established the principle that farmworkers, including those whose native languages were other than English, were entitled to fair labor practices, decent wages and benefits, and a healthful and sustainable working environment.  Even where these ideals still fall short of realization, the goals raised up by the UFW remain a powerful motivational force among farmworkers and their allies. 

Throughout the decades of this movement, Chavez and Huerta held fast to the principle of nonviolence pioneered by Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King Jr. in the US.  When violent attacks by sheriffs and teamsters against union members grew especially provocative, Chavez engaged in hunger strikes, once for 25 days, again for 36 days, imperiling his survival.  Huerta was severely beaten by police, requiring months of hospitalization.  Defying these obstacles, Huerta coined the slogan “Sí se puede” (It can be done), and the union popularized the chant, “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” (The people united will never be defeated).  Huerta also fought for inclusion of women in the farmworker struggle, and became a leading feminist advocate.  

Chavez and Huerta were among the first voices to raise alarm over the chemical poisons that landowners were spreading over food crops.  These toxic substances harmed farmworkers and consumers alike.  There is probably no greater connection between us and the earth than through the food we eat, Chavez said.  He compared farm workers to canaries in the coal mines, providing early warning of environmental disaster.  The public education that Chavez and Huerta provided about food safety forms the basic consciousness underlying today’s consumer choices in favor of organic and sustainable farm produce. 

Chavez died in 1993 of natural causes.  Huerta as of this writing remains alive and active, heading her foundation for community organizing, doloreshuerta.org.  Our park, originally called North Waterfront Park, was named for Chavez by a unanimous vote of the Berkeley City Council in July 1994. The Solar Calendar site located on the western ridge of the park is a tribute to Chavez and Huerta.  It contains informational signage and an audio-visual tour accessible via smartphone about these two transformational figures, their lives and their philosophy. 

Chavez-Huerta Mobile Tour Details

This 15-stop audio-visual tour begins at the southwest entrance sign of the park and leads you via GPS to the Chavez-Huerta Tribute Site (Solar Calendar). Point your phone camera at this QR code (right) to begin.  The 45-minute professionally produced interactive show gives an in-depth introduction to Chavez, Huerta, and the Solar Calendar site.  It’s made for viewing as you walk the park, but you can also view it at home.  Below is a two-minute flyover preview that leads you to the tribute site. 

Big Native Plant Stewardship Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Saturday April 6, everyone concerned with the park’s California native plants, their pollinators, the wildlife that depends on them and the humans who love them has work to do in the Native Plant Area. Chavez Park Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar has put out the call for volunteers to get down and dirty with the thriving grasses and weeds that are eating the native babies’ sunshine and soil nutrients. UC Berkeley’s Community Project is participating again, as on several previous stewardship days in the park, and we expect somewhere around 10 students to show up eager to work. Thanks to Parks Landscape Supervisor Jacob Several, there will be tools, gloves, piles of fresh mulch, and a trailer to haul away debris. You do not need a reservation, walk-ins welcome. Show up Saturday morning at 9:30 at the parking circle at the west end of Spinnaker Way.

Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar orienting UC Berkeley students last Nov. 4

Landfill Gas Rework Launched

The City of Berkeley failed to file a timely appeal of the February 16 order of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD, “back-mud”) and so must begin to make extensive and costly upgrades to the park’s landfill gas extraction and collection system. The City has also agreed to pay a $130,000 fine for seven violations of BAAQMD rules between 2019 and 2022, the District announced yesterday.

Michael Flanagan, Project Manager for SCS Engineers Inc., is in charge of the work. He has distributed a map of the gas system in the park, below, and advises that in the first stage of the work, all of the landfill gas extraction wells will have their access vaults replaced. This will mean excavations at each of more than 37 wellheads scattered throughout the park. After that, Flanagan says, BAAQMD may force replacement of some (or all) of the buried PVC gas transmission lines, which will mean thousands of feet of trenches. The map also indicates that the new, smaller flare station installed in 2016 may be replaced with another even smaller flare station to handle the reduced gas flow.

The City’s side of the work is being handled by the Public Works Department. Public Works is currently run by an interim director, LaTanya Bellow. A permanent director, Terrance Davis of Vallejo, was hired on March 26 and will start work on April 15. Public Works has been without a director since November, when Liam Garland resigned. Both of the department’s deputy director posts have also been vacant.

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Traditional Marimba Band

The Todos Santos Marimba Mejor Melodia de Oakland performed on Saturday March 30 in a wind-sheltered spot on the south side of the park, to a small but appreciative audience. YouTube has several recordings of this band’s local area performances. A Wikipedia article reports that the marimba has a long history. It originated in Africa, the name deriving from a Bantu word, with similar terms in Kikongo and Swahili. Enslaved Africans brought knowledge of the instrument to South and Central America. The first historical account dates from 1550 in Guatemala where enslaved Africans were playing it. It was declared the national instrument of Guatemala in its 1821 independence proclamation. The instrument also became hugely popular in Colombia and Ecuador. UNESCO has listed marimba music as an element of Colombian culture. Two Mexican marimba soloists, Manuel Bolan Cruz and Corazon Borras Moreno modified the instrument to make it playable in standing position and by adding keys for sharps and flats. Commercially manufactured marimbas began appearing in the 20th century. There is now a growing classical and modern repertoire for marimba and there are international competitions. Check out this YouTube link for a string of virtuoso solo marimba performances.

A Third Long-billed Shorebird

Following appearances by a Whimbrel and a Long-billed Curlew in the past two weeks, a third long-billed shorebird strode onto the scene this week: the Marbled Godwit. A pair of them, actually. Unlike the other two species, the godwit’s long bill is straight, or even very slightly upturned. The bird plunged its bill energetically around one spot, but coming up empty, paced away at high speed some twenty yards and repeated the exercise at another spot. How it decides where to plunge — how any of the selective foragers do that — remains a mystery. I last saw one of these birds in May a year ago.

Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)

Ruddy Turnstone Returns

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

The rarely seen Ruddy Turnstone that I spotted two weeks ago has resurfaced. At my first encounter it was closely surrounded by a flock of Black Turnstones all sheltering in the rip-rap on the east side of the seasonal Burrowing Owl Sanctuary. This week I saw several Black Turnstones strung out loosely along the east side of the park south of there. The ruddy foraged by itself on the rocks on the south edge of the Open Circle Viewpoint when I spotted it. I was lucky to get a few seconds of wind-shaken video before the bird flew off. Comparing the photos, I’m pretty sure this is the same individual I saw two weeks ago.

Hard Worker

Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus X)

I had to admire the energy and tenacity of this Black Oystercatcher in trying to dislodge something edible from under a stone. It finally gave up and tried another spot, with better luck; it got at least a tidbit of protein there.

Familiar Feathers

How many of these birds, seen last week in and around the park, can you identify without peeking at the captions?

More About Two-Gender Birds

Last week I posted about a Bufflehead that had both male and female characteristics. A recent New York Times story reported on a Green Honeycreeper in Colombia that was male on one side, female on the other. An older NY Times story reported on a cardinal in Erie PA that looked male and female on opposite sides. This trait is called gynandromorphism, and it’s been reported not only among birds but also among reptiles, butterflies, and crustaceans. It is also seen in mammals but very rarely. Although a bird may look both male and female, scientists say you can’t be sure without examining its organs. Most of the suspected gynandromorphic birds flew away before that could be done.

Now Blooming

The California Bee Plant (Scrophularia californica) and the Sticky Monkeyflower  (Diplacus aurantiacus)  are natives that Chavez Park Conservancy volunteers planted in the past year or two. The Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana) is a contribution by an anonymous donor. See it along the west side, near the second bench on the waterside of the path north of the parking circle.

No longer blooming is the French Broom I wrote about last week. Conservancy volunteer Clyde Crosswhite deserves credit for uprooting this noxious weed over the weekend, as he has uprooted many others in previous years. Checking the wider area, Clyde made the unsettling finding that nearly 200 other French Broom plants were poking out of the soil. He disposed of them all, but that’s never the end of French Broom. If we fall asleep on these marauders, they will take over.

The Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum) that’s growing very close to Extraction Well No. 7 in the Native Plant Area (See “Park Week 2/16/2024”) will be moved and replanted to save it from destruction when that well is excavated as part of the gas rework project, see above.

Chavez Park Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar, an experienced arborist among other skills, will supervise the relocation this weekend.

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