Park Week 5/10/2024

Tomorrow: All Hands on Deck

An unprecedented weed superbloom is challenging our Native Pollinator Habitat plantings in the park. Chavez Park Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar has called for a Stewardship Day tomorrow, May 11, from 9 to noon. Meet at the parking circle at the west end of Spinnaker Way. Tools and gloves provided. Lunch possible.

Digging Has Begun

Excavation Tuesday at Extraction Well 35

As announced at a meeting last week, excavation to repair and upgrade the landfill gas collection system under the park began this week. Staff and equipment of SCS Engineering, the contractor hired by the City to operate the system, began by locating and digging up two of the five extraction wells, EW33 and EW35, that had gone mysteriously missing over the past decade. It was thought that landscaping work had inadvertently covered up the utility boxes at the well headers. The contractors brought a lidar detector to try to locate the missing well heads, but this failed. Using historical Google maps and educated intuition, the backhoe operator, Jeff Ramos, with 26 years experience in the field, cut a number of exploratory trenches and managed to find both of these lost wells. In the case of EW33, the work required a cut eight feet deep and a tapered hole to prevent cave-ins, resulting in an area of disturbed ground covering about 30 by 50 feet (photo below). A similarly extended area of disturbed ground surrounded EW 34 when the work completed on Friday. The excavation at EW35, shown in the video above, was much more modest but still resulted in a hole about ten feet by eight feet and four feet deep, plus disturbed ground where the excavator maneuvered. Both EW 33 and 35 lie in the north end of the Off Leash Dog area. EW 34 lies across the fence in the Protected Natural Area. Lost wells EW14, 23 and 29 remain to be found.

Site of Extraction Well 33 after rework. Disturbed ground extends about 30 by 50 feet.

The City has published a rough schedule of the excavation work, see map below. Week 1 targets ten wells in the northeast quadrant of the park. The crews then move to the northwest quadrant where there are 13 wells to do. In the third week focus is on ten wells in the southeast side. Finally, at the end of the month, it’s the turn of the southwest corner, where there are nine wells, including two in the Native Plant area. The City’s Environmental Compliance Coordinator, Mary Skramstad, notes on the map that certain extraction wells, notably EW27 on the Chavez/Huerta Tribute Site, and EW7 and EW8 in the Native Plant Area, are sensitive and need cautious treatment, and other well sites may need special care to avoid hitting irrigation pipes.

This digging schedule is only the first phase of the landfill gas rework project that BAAQMD has ordered. (See “BAAQMD Beats Up on Berkeley,” Feb 7 2024.) It involves replacing the valves and measuring devices at the head of each of the gas extraction wells. The wells are connected to the flare station (the tall fenced smokestack near the east side of the park) via some 12,000 feet of high-density plastic pipe buried in shallow trenches. After the well headers are replaced, SCS will test whether gases from the wells are getting through the lateral pipes and reaching the flare. If there are problems, such as water flooding a pipe, the pipes will have to be dug up and replaced with appropriate drainage fixtures, which will mean remote pumps and additional pipes. In expectation of this second phase, SCS has taken delivery of an initial batch of PVC pipes (photo right). Much more may be needed. Trenching will involve extensive disturbed ground, which encourages growth of invasive weeds. In a third phase, BAAQMD may order the City to replace the existing flare station, installed in 2016, with a smaller model designed to handle the minimal landfill gas that this very old dump is still producing. The City estimates that the current phase of the project, covering the repair work at the 42 extraction wells, will cost $470,000. Estimates for later phases are not yet available. The City has hired the Langan consulting firm to determine whether the City’s contract with SCS Engineers should be reconsidered. The rework project is currently expected to last until late June, but don’t be surprised if it extends.

The City has now opened a web site dedicated to this project. Click this link to get there. Weekly updates are promised.

Reminder: May 23 Meeting on Restroom, Perimeter Trail

Reminder: the Parks department is doing a “public input” exercise on Thursday May 23 at 5 pm via Zoom. There are two topics:

(1) Renovation of the perimeter pathway. This is the city website for that issue. The trail hasn’t had anything more than a post-construction patch on the east side for 30 years. What material is being considered for pavement? Will the side trails for runners be preserved/improved? What about upgrading internal trails that are now just dirt or gravel?

(2) Public restroom construction. This is the city website on that issue. The website reveals a city that’s clueless about park visitors’ comfort needs. One single restroom in a park of 90 acres? No movement on the other porta-potties?

This is set as a Zoom only meeting, but neither of the websites gives a Zoom link. One hopes that the City will publish a Zoom link ASAP before the meeting.

Boat School Out, Big Boat In?

Small Cal Sailing Club boats at J-Dock. Camille Antinori photo.

The Cal Sailing Club on the south side of the waterfront is threatened with eviction from its boat docks in the marina. City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley wants to demolish the club’s six small-boat slips and build a dock for a 40-footer instead. The club has had these slips at the end of the J dock for more than 50 years. It uses the small sailboats there as training craft to teach generations of new sailors how to depart and return under sail power, without using motors, and to teach safe sailing skills on the open water. Williams-Ridley, who hired the Hargreaves Jones consultant firm two years ago to try to commercialize Chavez Park, puts the convenience of rich people who own bigger boats ahead of the sailing club’s nonprofit educational mission that serves the community. The good news is that Williams-Ridley has now resigned. But the eviction effort remains alive until defeated. The club has started a petition, available here, and offers further information about the issue here, plus an article in the local sailing mag Latitude 38.

Pelicans at Work

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) with immature gull

A solo Brown Pelican found good hunting on the north and east sides of the park this week, catching a fish in more than half of its plunge dives from the air. Plunge diving is a skill that must be learned. Young pelicans fail more often than they succeed. This bird seemed to be a veteran, regularly filling its flexible pouch with visibly bulging prey before opening its throat and gobbling it up. An immature gull, probably a Western, kept following the pelican, hoping for a handout or a falling scrap. No deal. Adult gulls knew better than to try. However, when there’s a herring run and dozens of pelicans dive-bomb the water in a chaotic frenzy, gulls stand a better chance, and intervene in numbers. Compare “Pelicans Pounce on Herring Harvest,” Jan 1 2017.

Slow Bird Week

Despite deep low tides several mornings this week, there were very few shorebirds to take advantage of the acres of exposed mud, at least while my camera and I were present. Seasonally new on land here was a trio of Brown-headed Cowbirds, waiting for other species to build nests for the cowbirds to parasitize. I saw no female Red-winged Blackbirds; they are definitely late and I am concerned they may be boycotting (birdcotting?) the park.

New Beetle

This isn’t new in any evolutionary sense. It’s new to our list of insects photographed in the park. I’ve actually photographed it previously (“Bug Day 23” May 21 2022) but wasn’t sure of the ID and so didn’t list it. Meanwhile the bug ID apps have improved and I feel confident that it’s a Darkling Beetle of the genus Eleodes. That genus has about 130 West Coast species, with about 40 species endemic to California, so that’s where the ID has to end.

Commonly named the Desert Stink Bug, the Eleodes are large as beetles go. This one was a bit longer than an inch. They defend themselves by standing on their heads and squirting a foul liquid from their rear ends. They can squirt for several inches. A bird or toad that has eaten one Eleodes usually leaves them alone afterward.

Most Eleodes species are cleaner-uppers, eating decayed plant and animal matter. They prefer moderate temperatures, going into hiding during very hot or very cold seasons. Many species take shelter in mammal burrows, such as those of Ground Squirrels. They may live for several years, very unusual for a bug.

Plant News

Do oak trees have flowers? I didn’t know, but it looks like they do. Up on the north side there is a cluster of tall shrubs that consist of closely neighboring Coast Live Oak and Holly Oak trees (Quercus agrifolia and Quercus ilex). Looking at them up close, I saw that the Coast Live Oak is pushing out reddish new growth, some of which looks like leaves, while some looks like an oak’s idea of flowers. The Holly Oak is more obvious; it’s growing catkins, which are hanging chains of tiny flowers. Photos below. So, yes, oak trees have flowers.

Saving the Cal Buckeye

The California Buckeye (Aesculus californica) grows to be a showy tree, spectacular in spring with vertical flowers that resemble candles. But it begins life as a modest sprout hardly taller than a human knee. One such newcomer grows on the edge of the lower path through the Native Plant Area, put there by Chavez Park Conservancy volunteers. Soon that path, normally a quiet foot trail, will become the access road for SCS Engineers’ equipment and crews to get at Extraction Well 8, which lies on that path. This week, we placed wooden stakes and pink tape around the young buckeye. That was too tempting for somebodies, probably kids, who made off with the wooden sticks. We came back with six-foot U-shaped steel fence posts, driven deep, and surrounded with yellow Caution tape. The contractor crews will definitely see it and should maneuver around it. Unless something goes wrong, this young Cal Buckeye looks to have a good future.

Achilles’ Band-aid

Yarrow (Achillea millefolia)

Yarrow, now blooming in the apron of the Native Plant Area, looks rather plain as flowering plants go, but has a fancy backstory. Its scientific name, Achillea millefolia, makes reference to the Greek warrior Achilles, and to the legend that this plant made him immortal and that it healed the wounds of the Greek soldiers.

An excellent feature on this plant appears in the May issue of the Friends of Five Creeks newsletter. The article mentions that Yarrow is a magnet pollinator, attracting everything from flies and bees and butterflies to birds and small mammals. More than 400 uses for Yarrow developed by Native American tribes have been catalogued. The newsletter also points out that if you are inclined to pick Yarrow for your own consumption, you need to be careful not to confuse it with Poison Hemlock, which is now also growing in the park (until Conservancy volunteers can remove it) and has a very different and lethal place in classical Greek legend, as the poison that killed Socrates.

Native Names for Native Plants — Article

Bay Nature magazine has an article in this issue about a new native plant garden being created on the Cal State University’s Concord campus. The principals of Berkeley’s Cafe Ohlone,  Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino,  are helping transform this space into an Indigenous community garden and gathering place, for stewardship and storytelling—and to improve the ecosystem on campus for wildlife and students alike. Coming soon is a set of signs for the plants, including their Chochenyo names. Read the details in the current issue of the excellent Bay Nature. As explained here two weeks ago, Chavez Park Conservancy volunteers are working on signage for the Native Pollinator Habitat here in the park, and plan to include the Chochenyo plant names.

Bug Problem

Myoporum laetum with leaves curled by thrip infestation

When the pioneers of Design Associates Working with Nature (D.A.W.N.) built the Native Plant Area in the early 1980s, they didn’t have full control over plant choice. Authorities who controlled their budget, and who did not believe in native plants, compelled them to plant Myoporum laetum trees (“Mousehole tree” or Ngaio). These New Zealand imports were popular street trees with Southern California urban planners in the 1970s. Myoporum grow fast, are evergreen, and throw lots of shade. Planners chose to ignore that their foliage and their fruit, which resembles cherries, are toxic. Harder to ignore was an insect, the Klambothrips myopori, imported from New Zealand along with the tree. This thrip curls the leaves of the tree into tight rolls and eventually kills the tree. As a result, urban planners have dropped the tree and it is no longer planted. But they remain in the park. The California Invasive Plant Council reports that pesticides are useless against this specialized thrip, and the only cure is to cut the tree to the root and paint the stump with insecticide. We have seen minor infestations of this thrip among several myoporum in the park in the past couple of years. This spring, one of the myoporum has a major infestation, with its leaves from top to bottom deformed and dying. This is the tree on the north side of the area, neighbor to and leaning into the native Toyon. The thrip infestation will spread. It would be prudent management to remove this myoporum promptly, and to inspect the remainder. There are native species that can take their place.

In Perspective

The flare station in Chavez Park, with Mt Tamalpais towering in the background, seen from the Schoolhouse Creek outfall

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