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Letters for the Week of April 1, 2015

Readers sound off on Oakland's Director of Transportation, bike parking, and agricultural water use in California.

2 comments

"Shifting Gears," Feature, 3/18

We Need a Better Planning Process

Wow. Great and timely article. You've done a great job of setting up the tension between funding availability and the lack of planning resources.

Missing from the article is what's being done to address that significant obstacle. What will be the role of the new director of transportation, and how will his hiring address the planning bottleneck? Are more planning positions being created? Can Measure BB money be used to fund a new planning position? Is there a risk we can lose the Measure BB funds if they're not spent right away?

My hope is that we can afford to be patient enough to put an excellent planning process in place before green-lighting projects, rather than rushing ill-conceived designs just to get money out the door.

Joe Chojnacki, Oakland

We Need More Bike Parking

I loved learning about all the stuff that's going on. I bike to work nearly every day that it's not raining from one end of the lake to downtown Oakland. I've also been active at Clorox — where I work — to secure bike-parking solutions in that building. I just wish there were more.

One thing that the article didn't mention, that I could see, was bike parking. I know coworkers who would bike to work if they could know their bikes were secure. Outside posts are fine, but as you know, bikes can be sitting ducks in this city. Bike theft is a big deal here. Even though we now have a room in our building dedicated to parking, it's still not as secure as the lockers that BikeLink uses.

A few weeks back I attended a grand opening of the bike shop on Broadway near BART, where one can now store their bike. I spoke with some people there about BikeLink, and my sense is that it's not something many are thinking of. There can't be bike shops like this everywhere, but I strongly believe that these BikeLink lockers can be in many more places.

Also, I live near the Grand Lake Theater, and on the weekends it has become incredibly crowded with people, as are many other popular neighborhoods. And bike parking of any kind runs out quickly. We really need more places to secure our bikes in order to draw even more people to ride more.

It would be really nice to see another article about cycling in the East Bay, and to get a discussion going about parking bikes. Please don't put this down — we really need resources like the Express to continue this conversation. Thanks to you and all who put this subject on your front page. Please, more, more, more.

Brad Eggebrecht, Oakland

It's Dangerous Out There

Lakeshore Avenue is a really dangerous stretch for cyclists — lots of distracted people pulling in and out of the parking spots next to the park, flinging their doors open, etc. I was in a collision myself when someone ran me off the road trying to pull into a parking spot. Don't let the bike lane and pretty views fool you!

Kristof Didrickson, Oakland


"A Drop in the Bucket," Seven Days, 3/18

Farmers Are Sacrificing

When things get tough — and the fourth year of a historic drought is certainly tough — it's natural to turn against our neighbors or look for someone to blame. But pointing fingers rarely solves problems, and the facts are often the first casualty in our attacks on each other.

In this case, let's start with a couple of basics: First, agricultural water use does not account for 80 percent of the "available water in the state." In fact, environmental use takes up, on average, about half of all managed water. Second, while it's true that California almonds feed people in many parts of the world (more on that in moment), it's not true that 80 percent of California almonds are exported. The actual number is less than 70 percent.

Beyond those simple facts, though, there's a broader mischaracterization at the heart of this piece: the claim that California's farmers have not shared in the sacrifice caused by this drought. There has been much focus on yesterday's announcement from the State Water Resources Control Board requiring conservation measures for urban users — like not watering our lawns after a rainstorm and not serving water at a restaurant unless it's requested.

What you might not realize, though, is that the state recently announced that agricultural users will get only 20 percent of requested water this year — a mandatory and much deeper slash than what's being asked of cities. That announcement closely followed an announcement from the federal government that it will give Central Valley growers zero water for the second year in a row.

According to a study by UC Davis, the drought cost farmers $1.5 billion in 2014, and caused the loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs related to agriculture. Those are significant hits — not just to farmers, but also to the state as a whole. That study is also a reminder of agriculture's broad and significant contributions to the state. The almond community (thanks in part to the previously mentioned exports) generates more than 100,000 jobs in California. For perspective, that's about the size of GM's entire North American workforce.

It's convenient to demonize growers as "Big Ag" in order to ask that we bear the full weight of the drought alone. But it's not who we are. In reality, more than three quarters of almond farms are 100 acres or less and more than 90 percent are family farms, many owned and run by third and fourth generation California farmers. We're your neighbors and friends, members of your community, and employers of hardworking Californians.

We too have made sacrifices in the face of this drought — and we've proactively worked to conserve water for decades, even when water was plentiful. Over the past twenty years we've reduced the amount of water we use to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent. We've done it by replacing outdated irrigation methods with more efficient technology and techniques. And we continue to improve. Each year, California's almond growers spend more than $2 million on environmental and production research, much of which helps us be ever more efficient with resources like water.

We value and appreciate the responsibility we have to grow a high-value, nutrient-rich food in the best way we can for our consumers and our community. So, let's step back and agree that we must work together to determine a viable future for the use of California's water. It needs to be done in a way that acknowledges the value of the environment, the economy, and the quality of life for Californians.

Richard Waycott, CEO, Almond Board of California

Robert Gammon Responds

Mr. Waycott, thanks for your letter. My assertion that agriculture uses 80 percent of the available water in the state comes from the California Department of Water Resources' website: "In an average year, California agriculture irrigates 9.6 million acres using roughly 34 million acre-feet of water of the 43 million acre-feet diverted from surface waters or pumped from groundwater." Thirty-four million out of 43 million is 79.1 percent.

As for my assertion that California exports 80 percent of its almonds, that's a common figure cited in numerous news articles in recent years. But so is 70 percent. And because that's the figure used by your organization, the Almond Board of California, I have corrected the piece to reflect that fact.

Nonetheless, exporting 70 percent of a crop that is using about 10 percent of the available water in the state is not sound policy. And in a drought, it's absurd.

As for almond growers taking a hit during the drought, the numbers don't bear that out. According to the Almond Board, almond exports increased last year compared to the previous year, as the number of almond acres went up as well.

Moreover, as you know, agriculture has been pumping huge amounts of groundwater during the drought in order to support the nut crop. As has been reported elsewhere, parts of the Central Valley have now sunk by as much of one foot because of all the pumping.

That's just not sustainable.

Here's to Long Showers

Good article. Add another big water waster — the soft drink companies such as Dr. Pepper in Victorville. It uses 250 million gallons of water a year in a high desert location. And in Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and other Los Angeles locations, they are tearing down big mansions to build mega-mansions with more bathrooms than many small hotels, and sometimes two swimming pools.

So why should the little guys be fined for washing their cars and watering their lawns to protect their home investment? Especially when Stewart and Linda Resnick (who live in the largest mansion in Beverly Hills) and others like John Vidovich, their Silicon Valley real estate development partner in the Kern Water Bank, can resell California water for millions of dollars of profits for themselves, thanks to the Monterey Amendments sweet deal they got back in 1992 from the State of California?

Until these inequities are solved, yes, I, too, will continue to take long showers in protest to the mismanagement from the California bureaucrats in Sacramento and influence of politicians such as Senator Dianne Feinstein, who goes out of her way to channel more water to the Resnicks every chance she gets.

Gene Beley, Stockton

There Are No Bad Guys Here

A question to ponder: If California agriculture gets cut back who will be most affected? Farmers yes, but how about the consumers in the cities who will pay much more for their food and maybe have less fresh food? There are no demons in this — just a lot of Californians who need to work together to deal with the new normal.

Ed Gerber, Oakland

Where's the Balance?

California almonds again are coming under attack, this time by the editor of the Express, who presents a one-sided viewpoint that claims too much water is used to grow almonds and that 70 percent of the harvested crop is shipped overseas, mostly to China. Sources are cited in the article are longtime critics of California's farming industry and refuse to acknowledge its benefits. They attempt to carve out a single portion — almonds — to drive home their point that they know better than farmers in deciding which crops should be grown.

It is unfortunate that the readers of the Express are not exposed to other viewpoints from those who are deeply involved in growing the food and fiber they eat, as well as by consumers throughout California and around the world. I have previously submitted a letter to the Express that provided a balanced approach to farming in the San Joaquin Valley and I find myself compelled to once again attempt to provide that balance.

I grow approximately nine hundred acres of almonds on my farm, which represents about one-fourth of my farm's acreage. I experience regret and exasperation each time I read another attack on a crop and an industry by those who really do not understand the decision-making that I go through in determining which crop to plant. I do not just wake up one day and select the crop that is going to make me the most money. My first step in the decision-making process is to ascertain which crop consumers will buy at their local grocery stores.

Yes, a major portion of the harvested almond crop in California finds its way to consumers in overseas markets. The return on this portion of the crop enables me and other farmers to continue growing for consumers everywhere and at the same time provide jobs for individuals who have been a part of my farm for generations.

If there is not a demand for the crop, then no farmer in his right mind will plant it. If there is another crop that I can grow that will provide a greater financial return than what I receive from almonds and consumers will buy it, then I'll switch crops.

Some people think that farmers are getting filthy rich from growing almonds but they don't understand the economics of farming. The financial returns I receive from growing almonds help my farm survive, especially in these drought years in which I have left 1,200 acres unplanted because of a lack of water.

Dan Errotabere, Riverdale

Corrections

Our March 25 dining review, "Going Analog," listed the incorrect address and phone number for Analog. The correct address is 414 14th Street, Oakland. The correct phone number is 510-858-5964. Our March 18 Seven Days column, "A Drop in the Bucket," misstated the amount of water California has left overall, because of an error in a Los Angeles Times op-ed by NASA water scientist Jay Famiglietti. The Times corrected its op-ed to reflect the fact that Famiglietti stated that there is only about one year of water left in the state's reservoirs. And our March 25 Theater Review, "If These Walls Could Mime," incorrectly identified the actors in Fantasy Home Sweepstakes: Malibu who played the Beckett-esque characters. They were Michele Owen and Christina Shonkwiler. In addition, it was Sango Tajima who played the bumblebee/sweepstakes host.

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