On November 3rd vote for a friend of the East Bay parks

If you live in Ward 1 of the East Bay Regional Park District, you will have an opportunity to vote for your representative to the Park District’s Board of Directors on November 3rd.  Many of the most heavily visited parks in the East Bay–such as Tilden Park, Point Isabel, Point Pinole, Eastshore Park–are in Ward 1.  The future of those parks will be in the hands of the Board member who wins this election.

Elizabeth Echols is the incumbent who is running for election.  Echols was appointed to the Board by the Board after the unfortunate death of Whitney Dotson.** Dotson had represented Ward 1 with distinction since 2008, after defeating Norman La Force in the race for that seat on the Board.  Now Echols must be elected to keep her seat on the Board.*

There was intense competition for the temporary appointment to the Board when Echols was appointed by the Board.  Norman La Force asked for the temporary appointment, but was not selected by the Board.  La Force has a long track-record that probably explains why the Board did not appoint him:

  • Norman La Force advocates for the destruction of non-native trees in East Bay Regional Parks and the use of herbicides to eradicate non-native plants and prevent trees from resprouting after they have been destroyed.
  • As a lawyer and the co-founder and CEO of SPRAWLDEF, Norman La Force has sued East Bay Regional Park District many times to impose his personal vision on the parks.  These lawsuits were costly to taxpayers and the Park District and they delayed the implementation of park improvements.
  • Norman La Force is consistently opposed to many types of recreation. He advocates for parks that prohibit public access. 
  • Norman La Force has an antagonistic attitude toward park visitors who do not share his personal vision.

Norman La Force sued FEMA and the Park District to destroy all non-native trees

East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) is thinning non-native trees to mitigate wildfire hazards by reducing fuel loads and FEMA is funding many of these projects.  Norman La Force is not satisfied with merely thinning trees.  He sued EBRPD and FEMA to force the removal of all non-native trees on 3,500 acres of park land.  That lawsuit is available HERE.   La Force appealed after losing the lawsuit, but lost again on appeal.

Norman La Force tried to make Sierra Club endorsement of the renewal of a parcel tax to fund the Park District contingent on a commitment to destroy all non-native trees rather than thin them:

“Hence, the Sierra Club believes it is critical that in any renewal of Measure CC funding for vegetation management should be increased for the removal of non-natives such as eucalyptus and their replacement with restored native habitat. If the Park District wants to continue with a program that merely thins the non-native ecualyputs (sic) and other non-native trees, then it must find other funds for those purposes. Future tax money from a renewal of Measure CC funds should not be used to thin eucalyptus but must be allocated to the restoration of native habitat.”  La Force’s full letter is available HERE.

Norman LaForce sued the Park District to prevent recreational improvements at Albany Beach

In an op-ed published by Berkeleyside, one of La Force’s many lawsuits against the Park District is described.  The lawsuit attempted to prevent the construction of a path with recreational access:  “SPRAWLDEF is an acronym for Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund.  On Jan. 17, [2013] the group, founded by Norman La Force and David Tam, filed a lawsuit against the East Bay Regional Park District, opposing a plan to acquire a small strip of property along the shoreline behind the track to complete a missing link in the Bay Trail between Berkeley and Richmond.  The Park District’s Plan would also add some parking to the Albany Beach area, build some wheelchair access to the water’s edge, and expand and protect the dune area behind the beach.   There’s something in this lawsuit to alienate just about everyone: Bicyclists and hikers who use the Bay Trail; environmentalists with an interest in dune habitat; kayakers and kiteboarders who launch from the Albany shoreline; the ADA constituency who find beach access generally impossible; and, most of all, dogs and their owners who rely on Albany beach for a place to play in the water.  Read the filing. It has all the earmarks of a spoiled child throwing a tantrum because they did not get their way.”  Emphasis added.

According to this article in the East Bay Times, the SPRAWLDEF lawsuit to prevent the Albany Beach project was eventually dismissed after two unsuccessful SPRAWLDEF appeals.  The Park District’s defense of the project required the preparation of a second, Supplemental EIR.  Park District resources were wasted to defend the project against Norman La Force’s frivolous lawsuits.

In response to a public records request, the Park District provided this estimate of the cost of defending the District against La Force’s lawsuits regarding Albany Beach:  “In total, we estimate that the attorney’s fees incurred directly as a result of the litigation filed by SPRAWLDEF relating to Albany Beach were between $321,358 and $346,358.  In addition, the court ordered the Park District to pay Petitioner SPRAWLDEF $60,587.50 in attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party in the 2013 litigation.”  The Park District was forced to waste nearly $400,000 of taxpayers’ money to defend its improvement project at Albany Beach.  The project was needlessly delayed by the lawsuits and money that could have been used to improve parks was wasted.

Norman La Force does not want people in the parks

Norman La Force was instrumental in creating the Berkeley Meadow at the foot of University Ave. in Berkeley.  The Berkeley Meadow was at one time part of the San Francisco Bay, until it was created with landfill and used as a city dump until the 1960s.  Over a period of 5 years at a cost of $6 million “non-native vegetation was scraped away, then the land capped with clean fill and contoured to form naturally filling seasonal ponds.” Then the meadow was planted with native grasses and shrubs to create an “approximation of the historic landscape that might have been present a half mile inland.”  The Berkeley Meadow is surrounded by a fence.  Public access is restricted to two narrow, fenced trails running diagonally through the 72-acre fenced enclosure.  Bicycles and people walking dogs on or off-leash are prohibited on the fenced trails.

The Berkeley Meadow is a 72-acre fenced vacant lot.

Berkeleyside described the Berkeley Meadow and contrasted it with a heavily visited adjacent park, owned by the City of Berkeley:  “What you won’t see [in the Berkeley Meadow] is more than a handful of the 2 million annual state park visitors, though this prime spot is just a short bike ride from West Berkeley. The adjacent, city-owned César Chávez Park on the north waterfront gets most of the visitors along its paved trail. But here, only a few hundred yards away, the Meadow, our state park managed by the East Bay Regional Parks District, is an almost wild place, trisected by two wheel-chair accessible paths.”  Indeed, the Berkeley Meadow does look wild, much like a vacant lot looks wild.

Norman La Force has a confrontational attitude toward park visitors

In his letter to FEMA objecting to the withdrawal of funding for a tree-removal project that was implemented before being authorized by FEMA, Norman La Force says that those with whom he disagrees are “like climate change deniers.”  Ironically, he is defending the unauthorized clear cutting of approximately 150 trees in his letter, actions that contribute to climate change.  La Force is actually the “climate change denier” in his accusatory letter.  The letter is available HERE.

In an earlier letter to FEMA about the same projects, La Force begins by asking FEMA to ignore those with whom he disagrees:  “We urge FEMA to discount the views of any individual or group that uses sophomoric name calling tactics in the press or in their FEMA scoping comments to categorize people or advocacy groups as ‘nativists’ (or other similar pejorative labels)…”  The letter is available HERE:  FEMA-DEIS for East Bay Hills predisaster mitigation – public comments

When La Force ran for the Ward 1 Board seat in 2008, Berkeley Daily Planet published an op-ed by someone who had observed Norman La Force in action.  Here are a few relevant quotes from her op-ed (emphasis added):

  • “La Force is not only ‘a thorn in the side of park officials,’ he is fiercely aggressive and known for vengeful acts.”
  • “If La Force is elected, he will threaten the park access of every person who walks a dog, rides a horse, seeks accessible trails, and bikes on the lands of the East Bay Regional Parks. His scientific background is nothing, as he has demonstrated in public hearings many times. He has worked harder to keep humans out of parks than any other “park proponent” I know. He definitely will try to crush any “opponent,” including the disabled, the young and the elderly. Not because they are right or wrong, but because they oppose him. I urge everyone to watch their back if he’s elected.”
  • “One can have honest debates about how to create urban edge ecosystems that allow both human uses and wild life to thrive together (yes, it can be done beautifully), but Norman’s rigidity will never consider other perspectives or creative solutions.”
Vote for Elizabeth Echols for the Park District Board of Directors

On November 3rd, please vote for the parks in the East Bay, not against them.  Please do not install an enemy of the parks who does not want people or trees in our parks and is willing to spray our parks with herbicide to get the landscape he prefers. When we vote for President of the United States on November 3rd, we must decide who to vote for at the same time we are voting against another candidate.  Both decisions are equally important.

The meetings of the Board of Directors of the Park District are open to the public.  They are collegial events in which the Board works cooperatively with the staff and the public is treated with respect.  The Park District does not deserve to have a “spoiled child throwing a tantrum” imposed on them, especially not someone who has sued them many times to get what he wants.  East Bay Regional parks are open to everyone with a wide range of recreational interests.  Let’s keep them that way by voting for Elizabeth Echols on November 3rd.

*Full Disclosure:  I have not met Elizabeth Echols.  I do not know her.  I have not consulted with her about the preparation of this article.  I have no reason to believe she would agree with my assessment of her opponent in the race for the Board seat in Ward 1.  My recommendation to vote for her is based primarily on the fact that she was selected by the Board for her temporary appointment to the Board, which suggests that she is supported by the Board and Park District staff.  I have read her credentials on her candidacy website and I have watched her participation in Board meetings since she was appointed to the Board.  This limited information about her gives me confidence that she will represent Ward 1 well.

**Update:  I have been informed that Elizabeth Echols was appointed to the Board after Whitney Dotson retired and that Mr. Dotson died about 2 weeks after Ms. Echols was appointed.  September 30, 2020

Update:  East Bay Times endorsed Elizabeth Echols for the seat on the Board of East Bay Regional Park District to represent Ward 1.  Their explanation for their endorsement is half praise for Echols and half condemnation of Norman La Force.  The article is behind a paywall, so here are a few quotes:  “In approach, she and her opponent, attorney and former El Cerrito Councilman Norman La Force, couldn’t be more different. At the park district, La Force is best known as the guy who files legal challenges.  La Force claims in his campaign material that he led the Sierra Club campaign to have the district purchase more land to double the size of the Point Isabel Dog Park, perhaps the East Bay’s most popular escape for canine owners.  Actually, when the park at Point Isabel was expanded in the early 2000s, La Force sought to block dog access to the new area.”

After explaining some of the many lawsuits La Force has filed against the Park District, East Bay Times concludes, “Now, La Force says, he wants to join the board so he can change the park district from the inside and lead it in a different direction. But we’re quite happy with the district’s current direction. Echols is the candidate who will keep it on track.”   September 30, 2020

Update:  Tom Butt, the Mayor of Richmond, has endorsed Elizabeth Echols for the seat on the Board of the Park District.  In his newsletter, he explains why he has endorsed Echols:

“The editorial in the East Bay Times at the bottom of this email recommends Elizabeth Echols for the District that includes Richmond. I agree that Echols is the only reasonable choice for this position.  Echols is opposed by a really bad candidate, Norman La Force, who is no friend of Richmond.”

Mayor Butt explains why La Force is persona non grata in Richmond in his newsletter to the people of Richmond:

“In 2010, Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP) entered into a litigation settlement agreement with Upstream Point Molate, the prospective developer of the gigantic and sprawling Point Molate Casino, including parking garages for over 7,500 vehicles. The settlement agreement that LaForce negotiated traded unqualified early support of the casino for tens of millions of dollars targeted for acquisition of open space at other locations. At the time, LaForce was a founding member of the CESP board. He was able to get other environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club to support the settlement terms in exchange for sharing the settlement proceeds. See Contra Costa County Case No. MSN09-0080” 

Mayor Butt explains why the Sierra Club backed the agreement with casino developers, according to Richmond Confidential: “The plan for the casino has made strange bedfellows over the years it’s been debated. Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, have backed the plan to develop Point Molate as a massive gaming resort complex because the plan would fund extra protections for native habitats and the removal of invasive plant species.”

Mayor Butt describes the casino project in his newsletter.  Does this project sound like it protects the environment? “The project includes a 4,000-slot machine casino, 1,100 hotel rooms, a convention center, a performing arts center, entertainment venues, retail space, a tribal government center and tribal housing. Under the agreement, three-fourths of the 412-acre site would be preserved as open space. The tribe has agreed to restore and protect natural habitat and to provide a continuous shoreline trail that would be a new addition to the Bay Trail.”

Mayor Butt concludes, “La Force has proven himself as someone who would sell out Richmond in a heartbeat.”  September 30, 2020.  Posted October 3, 2020.

Update:  Berkeleyside has published 4 op-eds about the race for a seat on the Board of East Bay Regional Park District.  Here, in the order in which they were published:

Although the op-eds are instructive, the comments on the op-eds are far more revealing.  Many influential stakeholders in land use decisions in the East Bay have stepped forward to tell us about their personal experiences with Norman La Force during specific land use policy debates, going back decades.  It isn’t a pretty picture.  The few who defend La Force appreciate his confrontational style of civic engagement and they applaud lawsuits as a means to get what they want.

The debates on these op-eds are a window into the Bay Area community of “environmentalists.”  It is an extreme version of environmentalism that believes the purpose of urban public parks is to provide protected reserves for native plants and animals.  It’s a misanthropic approach that opposes all new housing and views humans as intruders in nature.

Added October 28, 2020

Dialogue with native plant advocates

We believe that greater dialogue with native plant advocates would create more opportunities to find a compromise that would resolve the conflict about deforestation and pesticide use on our public lands.  Unfortunately, in the many years in which we have been engaged in the effort to prevent the destruction of our urban forest, we have found few such opportunities.

The Sierra Club is an extreme example of an organization that has isolated itself from all dissenting views on this issue.  Therefore, we were very excited that a member of the Sierra Club was able to send a letter to members, which we hoped would create new opportunities for dialogue with the Club and its allies on this issue.  (That letter is available HERE: Letter to Sierra Club members )

We are publishing today one of the responses that the author of the letter to Sierra Club received from a Sierra Club member.  We will also publish the reply to that letter.  We believe this dialogue is an example of the danger of isolating ourselves from those with whom we disagree.  When we refuse to discuss the issues, we deprive ourselves of opportunities to learn and we exacerbate conflict.

This is the letter sent by a native plant advocate to the author of the letter sent by a fellow Sierra Club member (we have removed his name because we do not have permission to publish):

img014 (1)



And this is the reply to that letter.  We have removed the author’s name because the letter was sent on behalf of hundreds of people who share her views.  Using her name more than necessary, inappropriately personalizes the issue.  This should be a public policy debate, not a personal vendetta.

Thank you for your letter of March 15, 2016, regarding my letter to Sierra Club members in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I am writing to provide you with the documentation about which you have questions:

Attachment A:  David Nowak’s “Historical Vegetation Change in Oakland…” states that, “Trees in riparian woodlands covered approximately 1.1% of Oakland’s preurbanized lands — redwood stand 0.7%, and coast live oak stand 0.5%.  Original forest cover is estimated at 2.3%…”  David Nowak has been employed by the US Forest Service since earning his Ph.D. degree from UC Berkeley.

I also recommend another visit to the Oakland Museum where you will find a touch screen map of historic vegetation of Oakland and surrounding communities in the East Bay.  It will confirm that the East Bay hills were not forested prior to settlement.

Attachment B:  The Environmental Assessment for the Strentzel-Muir Gravesite Plan at the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, California confirms that John Muir planted eucalyptus on his property.  The document also confirms the intentions of the National Park Service to retain eucalyptus on the property.  The entire document is available here:

Click to access Strentzel-Muir-Gravesite-Plan.pdf

Attachment C:  This is a holiday greeting card sent by John Muir to a personal friend in 1911, in which he depicts eucalyptus and describes it in poetic verse.

Christmas Card from John Muir
Christmas Card from John Muir

There are many reasons why eucalyptus was planted in California.  I recommend the history of the trees of California by Jared Farmer, Trees in Paradise:  A California History, for a more complete understanding of why eucalyptus was planted in California.  Mr. Farmer also describes John Muir’s fondness for eucalyptus.

We all have a right to our opinions, Mr. [redacted].  However, it is not in anyone’s interests to be misinformed of the facts regarding our urban forest.

Please let me know if there are any other statements in my letter for which you require documentation.



Cc: Michael Brune and Aaron Mair

No, this is NOT an April Fool’s joke.  These are actual letters sent by actual people.  We will publish a more comprehensive report of feedback from Sierra Club members to the letter from a fellow member in late April.

Another opportunity to influence the Sierra Club to STOP advocating for deforestation and pesticide use

On February 8, 2016, letters were sent to members of the Sierra Club in San Francisco from another Club member.  That letter is available HERE:  Letter to Sierra Club members.  The letter contained a postcard petition on which members were invited to express their opinion of the Club’s support for deforestation and pesticide use in the San Francisco Bay Area.  That petition is available HERE:  Letter to Sierra Club members – postcard petition.

The author of the letter reports that she has received 380 postcard petitions from Club members in San Francisco, indicating their opposition to the Club’s policy on these issues.  Only ONE postcard expressed support for the Club’s policy.  The letter was sent to 6,252 members, but undeliverable letters resulted in a net of 6,216 letters received.  This suggests that at least 6% of Club members in San Francisco are opposed to the Club’s policy.  Here are some (not all) of the comments that members wrote on their postcard petitions to the Sierra Club:

“SF native is windy sandy hills with poison oak!”

“Should the Sierra Club continue with its current position, I will cancel my membership” [several similar comments]

“If this native plant bullshit continues I’ll donate my dues to save the eucalyptus grove”

“I am strongly opposed!! (and have been for months)”

“Sierra Club member since 1975.  The idea to destroy our trees is absurd.  What would Golden Gate Park be without trees?  Sand Dunes!”

“These people would cut down every tree on SF streets & Golden Gate Park”

“Fanatical purists!  Should we plant more poison oak?!”

“If you want to go back to the habitats before get rid of people, buildings & cars.  Chop down & poison those instead of plants that were here before you were born.”

“I read your arguments for supporting this senseless destruction, and found them anachronistic and short-sighted…a 19th Century approach to conservation.”

“This same kind of “restoration” has been tried on a pilot basis in Glen Canyon, near my home, and has failed miserably.”

East Bay Hills
This antique postcard of the Claremont Hotel shows the treeless landscape of the East Bay Hills that the Sierra Club demands be recreated by destroying all non-native trees.

The author of the letter intended to send her letter to all members of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.  The Bay Chapter includes Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin Counties, in addition to San Francisco City/County.  Unfortunately, the staff of Sierra Club did not understand the composition of the Bay Chapter and therefore her letter was initially only sent to members in San Francisco.  It took one month to correct that error.

The letter was sent to over 20,000 Club members in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin Counties on March 8, 2016.  We will report the response to the letter in April.

What you can do to influence the Sierra Club

Meanwhile, there is something Sierra Club members can do to influence the Club’s policies.  The national Sierra Club is conducting its annual election of Board Members now.  Ballots have been sent to all Club members with the roster of candidates.  The roster of candidates and an electronic ballot are also available HERE.  You must vote by April 27, 2016.  If you are a Sierra Club member, we suggest that you look carefully at the qualifications and opinions of the candidates before making your choice.

To help you make the best choice, a member of our team has asked all candidates the following questions:

  • What is your opinion of destroying non-native trees?
  • What is your opinion of pesticide use in public parks and open spaces?

Here are the replies that were received from the candidates:

Susana Reyes

What is your opinion of destroying non-native trees? “Just the mere thought of cutting a tree upsets me greatly. I can’t offer a position about destroying non-native trees without considering the different factors that may come into play – like climate conditions, types of landscape, threats to biodiversity, invasive or not, fire threats – just to name a few. It also depends on the land management practices in the areas where non-native trees exist. There ought to be other options to destroying non-native trees. I would think very carefully about destroying non-native trees especially if only a fraction display traits that harm or displace native species and disrupts the ecological landscape”

What is your opinion of pesticide use in public parks and open spaces?  “I strongly oppose pesticide use in our parks and open spaces. I am all too familiar with herbicide “Roundup” for example and its use to stop unwanted plants. Another one is rodenticide which is used to kill rats in parks/open spaces. In Los Angeles, our beloved mountain lion, P22, who calls Griffith Park home, was sickened last year with mange as this poison worked its way up the food chain. Many of the chem Research has shown links to certain types of cancer, developmental disorders, and physical disabilities. Pesticides end up in our drinking water, watersheds, and rivers/lakes. The use of toxic pesticides to manage pest problems has become a common practice around the world. Pesticides are used almost everywhere and therefore, can be found in our food, air, and water.”

Robin Mann

“Let me just note that I am running for reelection to the Board because I believe I can contribute to the Club’s progress towards its major goals for the environment and for ensuring a strong and effective organization into the future. 

Being a strong and effective organization, in the case of the Sierra Club, requires among other things ensuring a broad and engaged grassroots presence everywhere.  And we know that strong grassroots engagement necessarily means people coming together to resolve local issues that often have competing considerations.  Our policies and our approach generally allow some latitude to ensure the local context is being taken into account.  I wouldn’t want to try to dictate the solution for all situations. 

My understanding from my work with the Club’s efforts to strengthen resiliency in the face of mounting climate change impacts is that restoring native vegetation is desirable, and can contribute to restoring greater ecological balance.  And my understanding from my work on the ground with organizations doing habitat restoration is that sometimes HERBICIDES are needed as a last resort to enable newly planted natives to become established. 

If you are speaking of herbicides being used in public parks and open spaces, my view is they generally should not be used for maintenance purposes as non-toxic alternatives are available.  For habitat and vegetation reestablishment I would defer to those designing the project with the expectation that herbicides would be minimized, used responsibly, and any exposure to park users avoided. 

If you are speaking of pesticide use for insects or other “nuisance” species, I expect that in most instances a non-toxic management alternative is available, and so the burden should be on the public entity to justify use of a pesticide for maintenance purposes.”

Luther Dale:

“I have to say I do not know the context of these issues nor knowledge sufficient to give you a good answer. There are so many environmental issues and I accept that I can’t be knowledgable about them all. I do know a lot about some issues and know how to listen and learn about issues new to me. Thanks for your passion about these and other environmental problems and for your work to care for the earth.”

Mike O’Brien:

What is your opinion of destroying non-native trees?  “I have strong concerns about invasive species crowding out and changing native ecosystems in detrimental ways.  That said, we have already made significant and irreversible impacts to many ecosystems.  I don’t believe a policy of eliminating all non-native trees simply because they are non-native makes sense at this point.  Rather, it should be taken on a case by case basis where we consider what the impacts are of the non-native species and any work should typically be done in conjunction with a plan to restore native trees and habitat.”

What is your opinion of pesticide use in public parks and open spaces?  “Strong preference to zero use of pesticides. There have been occasions where serious threats from invasive species have proved practically impossible to overcome without targeted use of pesticides, but this should be a rare exception as opposed normal operating” procedure.

Judy Hatcher:

“As you probably noticed from my candidate profile, I’m the ED of Pesticide Action Network, so I’m not in favor of pesticides–especially highly hazardous ones–in public spaces or anywhere else. I think the issue of non-native trees is specific to particular contexts and environments. But it’s unfortunate that the damage non-native plants and animals cause lead communities to demand increased use of pesticides and herbicides, which have negative consequences for human health as well as for the natural environment.

PAN focuses on industrial agriculture, so we don’t do a lot around non-native plants except for how they impact farming (hello, RoundUp!).”

If there are other environmental issues of concern to you, you can also ask the candidates questions:

Susana Reyes,  susanareyes1218@gmail.com

Robin Mann, robinlmann@gmail.com

Joseph Manning, josephmanning92@gmail.com

David Scott, david.scott@sierraclub.org

Luther Dale, lutherdale@hotmail.com

Mike O’Brien, mjosierraclub@gmail.com

Judy Hatcher Judyh08@gmail.com

PARTICIPATE in democracy!

As the presidential primary election rages on around us, we are reminded of how important it is to participate in our democracy.  When we don’t participate, we are handing our power to those who do.  Our country and our environment are in peril.  Please step up and exercise your rights by voting in the election of the national Board of the Sierra Club if you are a member.

Who supports the Sierra Club agenda?

John Muir is the founder of the Sierra Club. He would disgusted by the Club's advocacy for deforestation. He planted eucalyptus trees on his property in Martinez. He was as fond of eucalyptus as those who fight for their preservation.
John Muir is the founder of the Sierra Club. He would be disgusted by the Club’s advocacy for deforestation. He planted eucalyptus trees on his property in Martinez. He was as fond of eucalyptus as those who fight for their preservation today.

In this post we continue to deconstruct the Sierra Club’s “pre-buttal” to the letter from a Sierra Club member to fellow members.  We will examine the following claim that other environmental organizations support the Sierra Club’s agenda to destroy all non-native trees on 2,000 acres of public land in the East Bay Hills, and to use pesticides to do it:

“Members should know that this strategy also has the support of many fire experts and other environmental organizations, including the Golden Gate Audubon Society, the California Native Plant Society, and the Claremont Canyon Conservancy.” (1)

In 2009, Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon Society, and the California Native Plant Society co-signed an “Environmental Green Paper” entitled “Managing the East Bay Hills Wildland/Urban Interface to Preserve Native Habitat and Reduce the Risk of Catastrophic Fire.”  This suggests that at that point in time, these three organizations were in agreement about those issues.

However, by the time the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the FEMA projects that will implement that policy was published in 2013, their public comments on the DEIS suggest that their opinions diverged significantly.  Here are some of the comments they made that suggest substantial disagreement with the planned project.

California Native Plant Society predicts the result of FEMA projects

California Native Plant Society (CNPS) public comment on the DEIS (excerpt):

“The FEMA grants require monitoring and weed maintenance for years to come. Yet the FEMA grants do not supply funding for any of the follow up weed abatement. The East Bay Regional Park District, City of Oakland, and UC Berkeley have great trouble keeping up with acres of weedy species now in their stewardship purview. There just isn’t money available for comprehensive management of weedy invasives. This is demonstrated by the many acres of weedy ‘fuels managed’ areas, including fire roads. What mechanism is being instituted by FEMA in this DEIS to guarantee a commitment of money and personnel for management of greatly increased acreages of newly created annual weedy grassland?” (2)

The rhetorical question asked by CNPS suggests that they share our skepticism about the outcome of the FEMA projects.  The project is not providing any funding for planting native plants or maintaining them in the long run.  CNPS seems to agree with us that the likely outcome of this project will be non-native annual grasses.

The CNPS comment also seems to share our opinion that the annual grasses that are the likely colonizers of the bare ground will be a fire hazard:  “…exotic annual grassland, known for drying out the top layer of soil, and extending the fire season with dried out flashy surface fuel that can act like a fuse to ignite other areas.”  (2)

The CNPS prediction of the landscape resulting from the FEMA grants is in stark contrast to the rosy prediction of the Sierra Club.  The Club claims that native plants will magically emerge from the bare ground after non-native plants and trees are destroyed, without being planted.

Audubon Society “does not support” the FEMA project

Audubon Society’s public comment on the FEMA DEIS identifies many of the same issues that have been raised by critics of the project:

“The proposed tree removals may lead to colonization by broom or other invasive plants with little value to native birds and wildlife, unless native plants are reintroduced.  Although the amount of herbicide to be used on each tree is rather small, the total amount to be used by the project is very large. We believe that alternative methods to prevent resprouting should be used near water and perhaps in other specific circumstances…There is no support for the conclusion that native vegetation will return on its own.  This plan may not result in an increase in native trees and plants…Heavy mulching will delay or prevent the growth of native species.” (3)

In fact, the Audubon Society states explicitly that it does not support the plan as proposed by the DEIS (emphasis added):

“In spite of our approval of the general concept of the plan, the Golden Gate Audubon Society does not support this plan as drafted for the following reasons:

1) The plan calls for the removal of both non-native and native trees and brush with no plans to replant cleared areas with native vegetation;

2) The plan would use herbicides indiscriminately, rather than relying on more benign control of re-sprouting where herbicides are contra-indicated.” (3)

Clearly, the Audubon Society does not agree with the Sierra Club about the FEMA projects.  The Audubon Society agrees with the critics of this project that dangerous amounts of herbicide will be used and the outcome of the project will not be a landscape of native plants.  While the Sierra Club keeps telling us that “minimal amounts of herbicide will be used,” the Audubon Society has done its homework and can see that huge amounts of herbicide will be used.

Who supports the Sierra Club’s position on the FEMA grants?

The California Native Plant Society and the Audubon Society do not agree with the Sierra Club about the FEMA projects.  The fact that they did not join the Sierra Club’s lawsuit demanding 100% eradication of non-native trees in the project acres is another indication that they do not share the Club’s opinion of the projects. 

Update:  Although CNPS did not join the Sierra Club lawsuit against FEMA, it has indicated its support for the suit on its website:   “The East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society strongly supports the litigation action by SPRAWLDEF and the Sierra Club, against FEMA’s surprising Record of Decision regarding fuels management in the East Bay Hills.” 

Despite the fact that CNPS understands that the resulting landscape will be predominantly highly flammable non-native annual grasses, it apparently wants all non-native trees to be destroyed.  We don’t understand why CNPS was surprised by the final version of the Environmental Impact Statement, since it was virtually unchanged from the draft on which they submitted a written public comment.

We learned of CNPS’s support for the Sierra Club lawsuit from a member of the Club’s leadership.  Although this information doesn’t literally contradict what we have reported, we post it here in the interests of full disclosure. 

Although the Claremont Canyon Conservancy agrees with the Sierra Club about the FEMA projects, we note that they did not join the Club’s lawsuit either.  The only organization that joined the Sierra Club lawsuit is SPRAWLDEF (Sustainability, Parks, Recycling, and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund). (4) SPRAWLDEF (5) is a non-profit organization created and run by Norman LaForce, the Sierra Club officer who claims to be one of the primary authors of the FEMA projects (6).  SPAWLDEF has sued other public agencies, including the East Bay Regional Park District.

Update:  SPRAWLDEF’s tax return for 2011 reports $250,000 of income for legal settlements from environmental lawsuits.  The tax return is signed by Norman LaForce.

The role of lawsuits in the funding of environmental organizations

Lawsuits against the various governmental agencies have become an important source of revenue for environmental organizations.  The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has mastered this strategy.  The New York Times reports (7) that CBD had filed 700 lawsuits when the article was published in March 2010, and they were successful in those suits 93% of the time, according to CBD.  Those suits forced the government to list 350 endangered species and designate 120 million acres of critical habitat for their recovery.  Revenue generated for CBD by these suits was $1.4 million in 2008, compared with $7.6 million from contributions and grants.

Sharp Park, Pacifica, CA. Photo by Erica Reder, SF Public Press
Sharp Park, Pacifica, CA. Photo by Erica Reder, SF Public Press

Brent Plater is a former CBD lawyer who created a non-profit in San Francisco, Wild Equity Institute.  He has sued San Francisco several times about Sharp Park, where he believes that closing the golf course would benefit the endangered red-legged frog.  He has not succeeded in making that case to our judiciary, losing every case. Despite losing, he and his collaborators were awarded $385,809 for “legal expenses” by the court, according to the San Francisco Chronicle: “It turns out that Plater and his organization can win by losing.  Take the ruling in U.S. District Court on July 1, 2013, which, by any measure, rates as a legal smackdown of the institute. As Judge Susan Illston said in her ruling, ‘plaintiffs did not prevail on a single substantive motion before the Court.’” (8)   So, even when they lose, they can walk away with a sizeable chunk of change.  To be clear, it is the taxpayers of San Francisco who paid Wild Equity for suing the City of San Francisco.

So, ponder for a minute the interesting relationship between SPRAWLDEF and the Sierra Club.  The person who connects them is Norman LaForce, who is both a lawyer and an officer in the Sierra Club.  If these organizations prevail in their lawsuit against FEMA, will Norman LaForce share in the spoils?  One wonders.

(1) http://sierraclub.org/san-francisco-bay/hillsfacts

(2) https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/100411.  FEMA DEIS, Appendix R, Part 1, page 681

(3) https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/100411.  FEMA DEIS, Appendix R, Part 5, page 3834

(4) Sierra Club and SPRAWLDEF lawsuit against FEMA available HERE:  Sierra Club lawsuit against FEMA projects

(5) http://www.buzzfile.com/business/Sustainability,-Park,-Recycling,-and-Wildlife-Legal-Defense-Fund-(sprawldef)-510-526-4362

(6) https://milliontrees.me/2015/11/27/public-opposition-to-pesticide-use-in-our-public-parks/

(7) http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/03/30/30greenwire-brazen-environmental-upstart-brings-legal-musc-82242.html?pagewanted=all

(8) http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/nevius/article/Nevius-6378333.php

The court’s award of legal expenses is available here:  https://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/california/candce/3:2011cv00958/239217/189.  The award seems to have been made in recognition of the fact that the lawsuit forced the Recreation and Park Department to apply for a permit for park maintenance that results in an “incidental take” of red-legged frog eggs.


Despicable behavior: The Sierra Club sinks to a new low

If you’re a member of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, you will soon receive a letter from a fellow Club member exposing the Club’s advocacy for deforestation and pesticide use on public lands in the Bay Area. It will also contain a postcard which you can return to express your opinion of the Club’s policy.

The Sierra Club is worried. They’ve already issued a “pre-buttal” in the form of a note tucked into their newspaper, the Yodeler (available here: SierraClub – Yodeler Insert) that directed members to read their on-line “pre-buttal.”  Their “pre-buttal” is factually inaccurate, for which the national Sierra Club takes no responsibility.

Herbicide spraying in one of the project areas
Herbicide spraying in one of the project areas

Why would they allow an opposing letter through to their membership?

The Sierra Club didn’t allow the member’s letter to go to their mailing list out of any interest in members hearing both sides of the story. It’s the law.

California State law requires that non-profit organizations with elected boards, such as the Sierra Club, enable their members to communicate with fellow members. This doesn’t mean they release their members’ contact information. The letter must be given to the non-profit organization, which uses a third-party direct mailing company. In this case, the mailing was arranged with the national headquarters of the Sierra Club, which manages the mailing list of the entire membership.

The Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club has 6,300 members, so it is expensive to take advantage of this privilege. All the more reason to be outraged by the fact that the Chapter pre-emptively sabotaged this effort to communicate with its membership.

Here’s the story

We will let the author of the letter to the Chapter members tell you what happened by publishing her report to the many people who are collaborating in the effort to prevent the destruction of our urban forest (emphasis added):

January 27, 2016

Friends, I am writing to tell you the fate of my letter to the members of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club. My letter has not been sent yet, but it probably will be soon. The local chapter inserted a printed letter into the published version of the Yodeler informing members that they would be receiving my letter. That letter told them to go to the Chapter website to see a point-by-point “pre-buttal” to my letter. That is available on-line HERE.

I sent the staff in the national headquarters the email below and copied the Chapter staff who signed the letter in the Yodeler. You can read that email to see what I asked for. Now I have had a conversation with Bruce Hamilton who is in the legal office of national headquarters and I am writing to tell you the final outcome:

Mr. Hamilton freely admits that he gave my letter to the Chapter before my letter was sent. He did not see anything wrong with having done that. He says that the national headquarters assumes no responsibility for what the Chapter has done nor anything they say in their “pre-buttal.” I pointed out that I have provided evidence that the Club has refused to meet with us. He says the national headquarters takes no responsibility for ascertaining the facts. He has refused to request that the Chapter remove their “pre-buttal” from the website or revise it in any way. I told him that I would consult a lawyer about what “remedies are available to me.” [Redacted personal information]

So that is the fate of my letter to the members of the local Chapter of the Sierra Club. One hopes that members will now be so curious about my letter that they may actually read it! [Redacted personal comments]

In solidarity,

Mary McAllister

From: Mary McAllister
Sent: Wednesday, January 27, 2016 6:50 AM
To: michelle.epstein@sierraclub.org ; bruce.hamilton@sierraclub.org
Cc: Michelle Myers

Subject: Letter to members of the San Francisco Bay Chapter

Dear Mr. Hamilton and Ms. Epstein,

As you know, I have been trying to arrange a mailing to the members of the San Francisco Bay Chapter for some months. My letter has not yet been sent, yet the Bay Chapter has preemptively sabotaged my letter with an insert in the printed Yodeler alerting people to read the Chapter’s on-line prospective rebuttal to a letter that has not yet been sent.

The on-line “pre-buttal” starts by claiming that the Sierra Club has never refused to meet with me. I have attached [available here:  sierra-club-petition-to-national-leadership] my letters to the Sierra Club requesting a meeting that were sent in November. Those letters were sent certified and I have the return receipts, proving that the Club received my request for a meeting. The Club did not reply to those letters.

Also, below is my email correspondence with a member of the Chapter Conservation Committee attempting to get this issue on the agenda of the Conservation Committee in September 2015. This request was also ignored or denied. Since no one responded to me, I do not know which. [These emails are available here: Sierra Club – Conservation Committee]

These are just two of the most recent attempts to discuss this issue with the Chapter. I have a much longer paper trail of attempts that go back several years, including an email from someone representing Mr. Brune.

If the Chapter and/or the national Club are now willing to meet with us, I am still ready and willing to do so.

Meanwhile, I ask that the on-line “pre-buttal” be removed until my letter is actually sent and received by Chapter members. The well has already been poisoned, but this is the only remedy available to me at this time.

When my letter has been sent and received by members, I hope that the Chapter rebuttal will be more accurate than what is presently on-line. The Chapter leadership has been sent a multitude of studies, reports from environmental consultants and government professionals such as the US Forest Service. They therefore know—or should know—that nothing they are saying in their “pre-buttal” is accurate. I would be happy to present all these materials to you and others in a meeting.

I am one of hundreds of people who have been fighting for the preservation of our urban forest in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly 15 years. Please understand that although I am required by law to make this request as an individual member, I do so on behalf of thousands of people who share my commitment.

Mary McAllister

The bottom line

We are still trying to get the facts out to all Sierra Club members, and to all those who recognize that its views are out of step with the environmental realities of the 21st century.

We hope that those who are still members of the Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club will read the letter from a fellow member and send the postcard expressing their opinion of Chapter policy regarding deforestation and pesticide use. Thank you for reading this post.

As a reminder: The map below shows all the areas that are affected by this massive deforestation scheme that will fell nearly half a million trees. It’s a travesty that the Sierra Club is not only supporting these projects, but has also filed a lawsuit demanding that they be even more destructive than planned.

FEMA Project Areas
FEMA Project Areas

2015 Annual Report (prepared by WordPress)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 52,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 19 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Annual Report (prepared by WordPress)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 32,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Eucalyptus: A fairy tale

We were browsing in our local used book store when a book caught my eye with the title, Eucalyptus.*  Of course, I had to buy it.  It is fiction, a welcome reprieve from the dry, often dense reading I must do to inform the readers of Million Trees.  Now I have the pleasure of sharing this diversion with you.

A fairy tale told among the trees

Blue gum eucalyptus tree in the Mountain View Cemetery.
Blue gum eucalyptus tree in the Mountain View Cemetery.

We are in post-war Australia.  A young man marries a mail-order bride and soon loses her in childbirth, but not before insuring her life.  With this windfall, he buys a beautiful piece of land beside a river in southeast Australia.  His life is spent collecting and planting hundreds of different species of eucalyptus while raising his daughter.

The hundreds of species of eucalyptus provide what little structure there is to the book.  Chapters are given the botanical names of the great variety of species and their various shapes and characters are described.  Our very own blue gum is mentioned at length:  “The Blue Gum is easily recognizable.  The name E. globulus for the shape of its fruit, now describes the imperial distribution of this majestic tree:  through the Mediterranean, whole forests in California and South Africa, and all states of Australia.”

The farmer is as devoted to his trees as he is to his beautiful daughter, so when the young men start coming around to court his daughter he protects her by devising a scheme that renders her nearly unattainable.  He announces that the man who wins his daughter’s hand must first name every species of eucalyptus on his property.  This proves an insurmountable task, but his daughter is indifferent to the failures of a long line of men who come from all over Australia to see her legendary beauty, but fail over many years to pass the test.

Ghost Gum.  Courtesy Cynthia Clampitt, Waltzing Australia
Ghost Gum. Courtesy Cynthia Clampitt, Waltzing Australia

Finally, a uniquely qualified botanist presents himself to the challenge.  It becomes apparent that he will pass the test.  While the father and this botanist tick off the list of hundreds of eucalypts, a mysterious stranger visits the daughter in the forest.  He tells her stories that charm her.  For the first time in her life, someone interests her.  He brings to her his knowledge of a wide world full of unusual lives and human predicaments.

When the stranger suddenly disappears without explanation, she falls into a deep stupor.  Meanwhile, the botanist passes the difficult test and comes to claim his bride.  But she languishes in despair and he is unable to revive her.

We must leave the story here, because the end is a wonderful surprise of which we do not wish to deprive you.   It was a great pleasure to read about our trees where they are respected and admired, as they deserve to be here as well.


*Murray Bail, Eucalyptus, Melbourne, Australia, 1998

Citizens united against pesticide use in our public lands

Owl nest
Courtesy urbanwildness.com

Some of the folks who are opposed to the use of pesticides in our public lands have written the following comment on the draft reassessment of blue gum eucalyptus by the California Invasive Plant Council.  Their organization is named Communities United in Defense of Olmstead [CUIDO) for a 1999 Supreme Court decision which affirmed the rights of disabled Americans. 

We are publishing their comment at their request and extending their invitation to our readers to sign their comment.  The deadline for comments is due by July 31, 2014.  They are planning to send their comment on July 29th.  Please let them know if you would like to add your name and/or organization to their comment.  Contact them at: sismhall1@aol.com or 510-654-1366.

Our next two posts will make more suggestions for possible comments.  So, our readers will have several options of topics to cover.  And you are free to sign as many comments as you wish.  It’s still a free country.  Exercise your rights to free speech.  That’s what makes them strong.

To: California Invasive Plant Council

Re: Public Comment, Draft Reassessment of E. globulus

July 29, 2014

We understand that you are now reassessing your listing of blue gum eucalyptus as an  “invasive species” in California, and that you are inviting public comments.

We represent some of the thousands of people who live near and recreate in East Bay area parks and who vehemently oppose the massive removal of eucalyptus trees in our urban forests.  These trees are not “invasive” as you yourselves have conceded; their population is stable. (“It is reasonable to conclude that there is no significant net change in cover statewide.”) Instead you now raise concerns about fire danger and water shortage as pretexts for continuing to scapegoat this species of tree.

Climate change is upon us, and deforestation (which contributes to climate change) in the name of mitigating fire and drought (which are exacerbated by climate change) makes no sense and is counterproductive. We observe every summer that these tall trees capture significant moisture from fog. We witness intense fires all over the west, mostly in areas that do not contain eucalyptus. The scapegoating of this species is a false solution to a very big problem. You are not seeing the forest for the trees.

Furthermore, as people with disabilities, including chemical sensitivity caused by exposure to pesticides, we object to the use of herbicides, which inevitably follow attempts to remove “invasive species.” We are alarmed by the recent dramatic increase in the application of poisonous pesticides to our public parks. This threatens our health and violates our right to access public spaces, a right which is guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Finally, as human beings who love the earth, we cannot allow to go unchallenged the hubris and ethical failings embedded in the idea that we humans have a right to destroy ecosystems. (If any species belongs on a list of “invasives,” it is homo sapiens!) Such destruction is the inevitable consequence of your decision to continue with this listing. The science does not justify keeping eucalyptus on your list of “invasive” species. It is rooted in xenophobic prejudice, and like all bigotry, will cause untold damage.


Communities United in Defense of Olmstead (CUIDO)

(contact: sismhall1@aol.com or 510-654-1366)

Additional organizational and individual supporters:

Update:  On March 13, 2015, the California Invasive Plant Council published its final reassessment of Blue Gum Eucalyptus (available HERE).  Cal-IPC has downgraded its rating of invasiveness and ecological impact from “moderate” to “limited.”  Although the detailed assessment is less than perfect, the over all rating itself is an improvement.  Thanks to those who sent comments to Cal-IPC.



2014 Events for your calendar

The year’s winding down, and many of us are making plans for the next few months. An email from the Commonwealth Club told us of an interesting new series of lectures in January, March and April of 2014. It’s the Science of Conservation and Biodiversity in the 21st Century series, from three professors each giving one talk in San Francisco.

According to the email: “This series of lectures will present a new way of looking at public issues in conservation. The things we’ve assumed as facts often are not. Traditional approaches are losing ground as science illuminates new pathways for framing and achieving conservation goals.”

This is important thought leadership that could shift the way San Francisco manages its wild spaces. A good turnout would encourage the Commonwealth Club to have more such talks. Please do attend if you can.


bumble bee on strawberry tree
Native bumble-bee on non-native Strawberry Tree

Dr Scott Carroll is the Founding Director, Institute for Contemporary Evolution and Department of Entomology at UC Davis. He will talk about Conciliation Biology: An Approach to Conservation that Reconciles Past, Present and Future Landscapes in Nature.

Here’s what the Commonwealth Club website says: Biologists are now considering the “conciliatory approach.” This approach recognizes that mutual adaptation of native and non-native species is changing best practices for promoting biodiversity. Dr. Carroll investigates how organisms respond to human-caused environmental change. Carroll advocates for interdisciplinary solutions to problems of environmental conservation.

Register at the club’s website: www.commonwealthclub.org/events/2014-01-30/scott-carroll-conciliation-biology


Dr. Arthur M. Shapiro is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology, College of Biological Sciences, at UC Davis. He’s speaking on Ecological Communities and the March of Time.

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly emerges on passiflora plant
Gulf Fritillary butterfly breeds on non-native passionflower – wikimedia

From the website: “Ecological communities as we know them are similar to freeze-frames from a long movie. Associations among species are very dynamic on millennial scales, as demonstrated by the evidence since deglaciation 15,000 years ago. Coevolution of species occurs locally in geographic mosaics, and can be extremely dynamic as well. Frederic Clements, the father of American community ecology, had a holistic vision. He saw communities as super-organisms. He was wrong.”

Register at: www.commonwealthclub.org/events/2014-03-24/arthur-m-shapiro-ecological-communities-and-march-time


ferns and blackberry and poison oak
Eucalyptus forest understory on Mt Sutro

Dr. Joe R. McBride is Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, UC Berkeley. His talk is about The History, Ecology and Future of Eucalyptus Plantations in the Bay Area.

The website says: “McBride will explain the ecology of the eucalyptus forest in the Bay Area. He will discuss its structure, the variety of plants and animals that live within it, its health and the ecological functions it performs. There will be a description of the dynamics within these forest stands (such as whether they are successional or a climax-species that replace themselves over time without human input) and about their invasive potential.”

Register at: www.commonwealthclub.org/events/2014-04-09/joe-r-mcbride-history-ecology-and-future-eucalyptus-plantations-bay-area


  • All lectures are at the San Francisco Club Office, 595 Market St.
  • The tickets cost $20 to the general public, $8 for members of the Commonwealth Club, and $7 for students carrying appropiate ID.
  • You can register to attend at the links we gave, or call 415.597.6705


This is reprinted from Save Mount Sutro Forest with permission.