Park Week 4/26/2024

See You at the Fair

The Chavez Park Conservancy booth at the 2023 Bay Fair

Tomorrow, Saturday April 27, is the day of the Bay Fair at the Berkeley Waterfront. Free and open from 11 to 4, this family-friendly event features music, food trucks, a forecast of warm sunny skies and information booths from a string of local nonprofits, including your Chavez Park Conservancy. If you can spend an hour or two in the Conservancy booth greeting park visitors, you’ll have a great time and do a good deed. The location is Shorebird Park, 160 University Avenue, on the south side of the Marina. See you at the Fair!

Native Names for Native Plants

Artist’s conception of Ohlone Village on Bay Shore, with shellmounds. Source:

The people who lived in this area for centuries before European settlers arrived knew their plants very well, and had their own names for them. In a very few cases, the original names have stuck, as with the Toyon tree, a name that’s believed to stem from the Ohlone name. But almost every other common plant name that we know today is a European invention, as are all of the scientific names.

For several years, Chavez Park Conservancy volunteers have worked to refresh and upgrade the Native Plant Area in the park by establishing a Native Pollinator Habitat. We recently won a grant from the UC Chancellor’s office to make educational signage for this project. One of the conditions of the grant is that we include on each sign that identifies a plant the name of the plant in the local Indigenous dialect. Here’s where we need some help.

The Ohlone people who lived in the East Bay before colonization spoke the Chochenyo language, sometimes called Northern Ohlone or East Bay Costanoan. Chochenyo was a spoken language only, not written. The last known native speaker of Chochenyo was named Jose Guzman, who died in 1934.

In the 21st century, surviving members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, in collaboration with UC Berkeley language scholars, have worked to restore the Chochenyo language. Language rescue is part of the tribe’s effort to reclaim federal recognition, which lapsed decades ago on the mistaken belief that no Ohlone survivors existed. Much depends on the notes that the European scholar J. P. Harrington took during his fieldwork with Chochenyo speakers in the early 20th century. Thanks to an email from Prof. Juliette Blevins, formerly of UC Berkeley and now at City University of New York, we have access to Harrington’s Chochenyo dictionary as compiled by Amy Miller in 1994. On first view, it contains Chochenyo terms for some animals and for a few plants. It would be helpful if a volunteer with some linguistic skills could comb through it.

Thanks to retired UC linguist Prof. Leanne Hinton, who has worked on Chochenyo revival, we have learned of the ‘ottoy initiative taking place at the Lawrence Hall of Science. Its general purpose is to “encourage a healthy relationship between the university and the East Bay Ohlone people.” Part of this project is Cafe Ohlone in Berkeley, the world’s first and only restaurant serving the traditional foods of the Ohlone people. Much of that fare relies on native plants. Among the “Coming Soon” items on the Lawrence Hall of Science website is an announcement that the native plants in the Hall’s Outdoor Nature Lab will have new signage that shares “the Chochenyo words and traditional uses” for these plants.

We are looking forward to this initiative and hope to be among the first native garden keepers to follow the Ohlone revival movement by investing the signage for native plants in our park with their native names. If you have information that could help in this effort please get in touch by leaving a Comment below or emailing

Condolences: Paul Canin

Helen Canin

Among the Chavez Park Conservancy volunteers who have consistently showed up in the Native Plant Area to weed, water, and cultivate is Helen Canin (photo left). On April 12, Helen’s husband Paul Canin died, two weeks short of his 101st birthday. All of us who have met and worked alongside Helen send our condolences.

A story about Paul’s interesting life appears in the April 22 issue of Berkeleyside. The story mentions that Helen has worked on a native plant project “in a local park.” This is the park.

City Meeting on Landfill Gas Rework

The City’s Public Works department, which is in charge of the landfill gas system under the park, has invited the public to a meeting on Thursday May 2nd from 1 to 2 pm at the Berkeley Yacht Club, 1 Seawall Drive. The meeting will disclose the schedule for construction work in the park. This is an in person meeting only, no Zoom. A memo from the City Manager about the project is online here.

City Meeting on Restroom, Trail

The City has called for a “Community Meeting” on Thursday, May 23, at 5 pm on Zoom to “get input” on two projects at Cesar Chavez Park: renovating the perimeter trail and building one permanent restroom. The Zoom link will be on the webpages for each project. This is the website for the perimeter pathway. This is the website for the restroom project.

There’s much to say on both projects, in due time. But I’ll start by pointing out that the website for the perimeter path project has got the trail’s historic name wrong. The website calls it the “Dorothy Stegmann Trail.” Close, but no cigar. It’s the Olivia Stegman Memorial Trail, so named after a well-known disability activist who fought for an ADA-accessible route around the park. You don’t have to dig into City archives to get the correct name. It’s embossed in stone on the historic markers at the southeast and southwest corners of the trail. See “Historic Marker,” here. The marker also says that there is “Parking for Disabled Public Restroom.” Whatever happened to that?

On the restroom project, park activists have been fighting for permanent restrooms in the park for almost ten years now. See “Easiest Petition Ever,” Feb 15 2015. Porta-potties are designed for short term use, for an event or a weekend. These have been here for a quarter century, and maintaining them has cost more than it would have cost to build permanent restrooms to begin with. See “Open Letter to Ann-Marie Hogan, City Auditor,” Jun 14 2017. Porta-potties raise gender equity issues and environmental sanitation issues. They also make the city look bad. No other East Bay city tolerates them in public parks anymore. Visitors from around the world visit Berkeley and are astonished that this almost medieval facility is allowed to exist here. Not just one, but all the porta-potties in the park need to be replaced by permanent restrooms. Park visitors concerned about better bathrooms should definitely check in for the May 23 meeting.

Birds Seen This Week

It seemed like a light week for birds, both dry and wet. That means no difficult challenges for you to identify them, apart maybe from the first, which I included only because of the bird’s unusual posture. So you’re excused if you peek at the caption for that one. The rest of them, if you’ve paid any attention to this blog the past few weeks, should be super easy.

The Week’s Bloomers

Despite its “limited” rating from the California Invasive Plant Council, I like the Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) and wish that the City’s mowers would spare the stands of them that form in the grasslands. They aren’t elbowing out natives there.

I’m not a fan of the Bristly Oxtongue (Helminthotheca echioides) and note with dismay that this year some exemplars of this aggressive Mediterranean weed have grown four feet tall, and still growing.

A pleasant contrast is the Coastal Bush Lupine (Lupinus arboreus), which Parks has established on the south side of the parking circle at the west end of Spinnaker Way. It looks like this Cal native is thriving there. Conservancy volunteers last fall planted the Silver Lupine (Lupinus albifrons), another Cal native, which is now having its first bloom in the Native Plant Area. It had three bumblebees on it on Thursday morning.

Another Conservancy planting is the blue California Lilac (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus). We planted a number of these Cal natives in different regions of the Native Pollinator habitat. This one on the south side is blooming for the first time. It may grow into a sizeable bush or small tree in due time. — The Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber) grows only in a few isolated spots on the north side, far below its invasive potential. In its native South Africa, this plant is illegal to own, import, grow, move, sell, give, or dump in a waterway. In our park there are so many other invasive plant species that they sometimes keep each other in check.

This is the season of the clovers. In addition to the ones mentioned last week, this week we have Hop Clover (Trifolium campestre), Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum), Rose Clover (Trifolium hirtum) and White Clover (Trifolium repens). There are 22 species of clover native to California. These are not among them. The ones in the park are all native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and have been brought over by colonists mainly as cattle feed. They are undeniably pretty, though.

The Sugarbush (Rhus ovata) is a California native. At the moment it’s in its flowering stage. The closeup photo shows a dense package of tiny whitish-yellow flowers, some of which are already visibly in the process of forming seeds that will become the sugary fruit of this plant.

The Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) is at home in Eurasia, but has been here for many years. The detail photo shows the seeds attached to small sticky petals. The wind or passing animals will spread the seeds widely, and they can float on water. Both leaves and seeds have found nutritional and medicinal applications.

At Rest

This California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi) looked so at peace, and so picturesque with rolling waves behind and flowering Purple Vetch in front that I couldn’t resist taking its portrait.

Benefits of Greenery

The current issue of Scientific American has an article by Lydia Denworth summarizing recent research into the benefits of greenery. People who spend more time outdoors in the green have lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems, lower risk of heart disease, better sleep, improved cognitive function, lowered stress, and reduced depression. Time spent in nature also may slow aging. Bottom line: Chavez Park is what the doctor ordered.

San Francisco Bay seen from the top of the path that runs along the north edge of the Native Plant Area

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4 thoughts on “Park Week 4/26/2024

  • To Kit: There are no rules restricting drones at Chavez Park. Chavez Park is unique in this regard. Practically all other parks, including the East Bay Regional Parks, bar drones. This issue belongs to City Council. You might make an impact contacting your Berkeley City Council members about it.

  • I read and am deeply appreciative of your blog. Could you update us on the attitude of the park toward the drones, flown up screaming from the grassland hillside facing east. They seem so unfair to the birds and animals that make their lives at the park and to those of us who come here for natural beauty. There’s a similar drone-like kite flown on the south west grassland, that screams over the grass.

  • Your posts always informative.
    Only timely and factual Marina info.
    Sometimes, Berkeleyside has information.
    It’s hoped that the city of Berkeley solicits information with oobservations from employees – especially those who work after hours, and Saturday and Sundays with direct public contact with actual boots on the ground, who have self training, discipline and experience. For example, public restrooms.

  • If there’s anything with almost as many benefits as greenery in the outdoors, it’s reading your simply eloquent blog (is this a blog?). Thank you for all the inspiration and letting us know about the meeting Thursday, which I missed seeing elsewhere.
    Virginia Browning

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